Analysts: Malaysian govt moving up budget debate signals possible snap polls

Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
Analysts: Malaysian govt moving up budget debate signals possible snap polls A customer counts her ringgit notes outside a money changer at the central business district in Singapore, Aug, 25, 2015.
[Edgar Su/Reuters]

Malaysia’s government said Friday it would unveil the 2023 budget three weeks earlier than scheduled, in what analysts said is a clear sign that snap polls could soon be called after parliament passes the spending plan.

The announcement followed reports that the bosses of the ruling UMNO party this week threatened to sack Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as party vice president if he didn’t announce snap polls to capitalize on recent emphatic electoral victories at the state level.

In a statement on Friday, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law), said that Budget 2023 would be introduced for parliamentary debate on Oct. 7, instead of Oct. 28, as previously scheduled.

In responding to questions from reporters, Wan Junaidi denied the announcement’s link to a general election, although the president of the United Malays National Organization has called a special meeting for Saturday to discuss “current issues.”

Political analyst Oh Ei Sun indicated that an earlier budget means that elections could be called this year.

The budget being brought forward would imply that the election “likely before the late December annual flooding season,” Oh, of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told BenarNews.

Political analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi concurred.

“I see this as a very clear sign that the general election will be hastened,” Awang, an associate professor at University Malaya, told BenarNews.

“The election will be rushed since I think the Prime Minister has finally agreed that if it is postponed, it will give PH an advantage,” he said, referring to the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Awang was referring to how PM Ismail Sabri, who holds the number three position in UMNO, has been reluctant to hold snap polls, while a faction led by the party’s top boss, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, wants to hold elections as soon as possible.

The analyst also suggested that the opposition coalition Pakatan would benefit by having more time to prepare in the run-up to elections, and to capitalize on a couple of setbacks UMNO has suffered lately.

On Tuesday, UMNO senior leader and former PM Najib Razak was sent to prison for 12 years after the Federal Court upheld a lower’s court’s guilty verdict against him for corruption in a case linked to the 1MDB financial scandal. In addition, the government is under the scanner over a Najib-era multibillion dollar warship procurement project, which has failed to deliver any competed ships in eight years.

‘Soft and generous budget’

Meanwhile on Friday, UMNO Secretary General Ahmad Maslan denied reports that party leaders had given Ismail Sabri an ultimatum to meet several demands or risk being sacked as the party VP.

Some critics have alleged that Najib and Zahid, who is also standing trial for corruption, were in favor of early polls so they could influence the outcomes of their cases, though they have vigorously denied such allegations.

An earlier election means Malaysians can expect a voter-friendly budget, said economist Ramon Navaratnam, former secretary-general of the Ministry of Transport.

“The general election is now likely after a kind, soft and generous budget, with strong support for the poor,” he told BenarNews.

Navaratnam, who formerly served on the board of directors at the World Bank in Washington, said the budget would be populist to help UMNO, which leads the ruling coalition, win more votes.

However, for the sake of good governance and fiscal integrity, Navaratnam cautioned the government to guard against undue strain in the deficit and debt areas.

“Don’t be over-generous for the sake of going for the popular budget. Let’s avoid the bad practices of Greece, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka,” he said.

Malaysia’s parliament will automatically dissolve on July 16, 2023, and general elections have to be held on or before Sept. 16, 2023.


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