Malaysia: 5 clues the General Election is coming soon


Malaysia: 5 clues the General Election is coming soon
By Zan Azlee

THE rumour mill in Malaysia has been on overdrive of late.

Everywhere around us, people are saying this could very well be the year of the 14th General Election. Everyone’s talking about it – from the uncles and aunties in the coffee shop to the students in universities and colleges.

But why are they saying this? Here are five reasons possibly fueling the speculation.

1. The Parliament’s five-year term is about to expire

This is the most obvious reason. In Malaysia, the term for a party to hold government is five years. After our last national contest on May 5, 2013, the first meeting of Parliament was held on June 24 that year. Parliament will therefore automatically dissolve five years later (on June 24, 2018) if no election is called before then. The law also stipulates an election must be called within 60 days of dissolution. In a nutshell, this means the contest can be called any time between now and Aug 24, 2018.

2. Politicians are hitting the campaign trail

We’ve seen a tremendous increase in activity by current Members of Parliament along with future and potential candidates. They have been going to the ground, meeting with constituents and issuing statements typical of a candidate on the stump – how much they’ve already contributed and are willing to contribute to the people.

We’ve seen candidates like the Democratic Action Party’s (DAP) Liew Chin Tong meeting his constituents in Ramadan bazaars to hand out free dates and food, and ending up getting chased off by thugs. Past, and potentially future, candidate for the Lembah Pantai constituency Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin has also been making public statements about how he plans to help his constituents.

3. Increase in handouts by the government

It is almost tradition in Malaysia every time an election is near and campaigning is about to start, the government of the day starts doling out more cash and other handouts to the public. One example is the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) cash incentive programme introduced by current Prime Minister Najib Razak. The annual cash handout given to needy households first started with RM500 per head in 2012 and was increased to RM900 this year in the National Budget.

The budget for 2017 also saw more people-friendly allocations, such as the increase for loans government servants are eligible for when they buy houses and motorcycles. There’s also the announcement the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will remain at six percent.

4. The Opposition isn’t doing so great

Throughout the year, the federal opposition has been in and out of all kinds of crises, from the splitting up of component parties to plain bickering among members about their previous manifesto. They have been arguing publicly about issues small and big, issues they shouldn’t be differing on in the first place. Their squabbling only boosts the confidence of their opponents in government, providing them the impetus to call for early polls.

The opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) recently saw a massive split among its members, resulting in mutiny and the setting up of an offshoot party called Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), the political entity currently accepted as a member of the federal opposition bloc.

Where this leaves the religiously conservative PAS is hard to say at this point. It isn’t part of the ruling party although it has toyed with the idea of a political cooperation and neither is it friendly with the federal opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (pact of hope).

And of course, everyone knows the big spat between PAS and the other opposition players on former’s ambition to implement hudud, the Islamic criminal justice system, in Malaysia. The ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) has been exploiting the issue to gain political capital and create a rift in the opposition. Of course, how far right Umno intends to allow PAS to drag it remains to be seen.

5. The Opposition is gearing up for polls

A source of mine in the opposition said their election machinery is already preparing for a campaign – the assumption now is that campaigning will formally take place some time during the final quarter of the year, perhaps in September or October. Everyone in the opposition, it seems, are starting preparations.

More publicly, we’ve seen attempts by members of Pakatan Harapan to show they are in control of their leadership. They’ve even announced who their potential candidates for prime minister would be should they eventually win the general election (or Opposition Leader).

Of course, it’s all turned out to be a bit of a media circus, hardly something comprehensible.

It’s been said that former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad could again be a candidate for the coveted post (he was Malaysia’s longest serving former prime minister and formerly president of the ruling coalition) and many people are unhappy with that. And because of this, jailed leader Anwar Ibrahim, a long time leader of the opposition and Dr Mahathir’s former deputy in the government, publicly announced he won’t be offering himself as a candidate – with the hope that Dr Mahathir will pull out too.

For these reasons and more, it is believed the 14th General Election is coming close.

Of course, this is just speculation at this point. The decisions remain entirely in Najib’s hands. He could choose to call for polls as soon as possible or wait for the very last minute when Parliament actually dissolves itself next year (like what he did during the last general election).

All we can do is wait and see.

[This article was originally written for and published at AsianCorrespondent.com]

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