Analysts: PM unlikely to call elections after pact with opposition ends

Muzliza Mustafa, Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah, and Noah Lee
2022.07.28
Kuala Lumpur
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Analysts: PM unlikely to call elections after pact with opposition ends Malaysia’s Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (right) participates in the United States-ASEAN Special Summit at the U.S. State Department in Washington, May 13, 2022. [
[Brendan Smialowski/AFP]

Malaysia’s leader will hold off announcing elections for as long as he can, although a pact that he struck with the opposition to not dissolve parliament before July 31 ends soon, leaving him free to call snap polls, analysts say.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has publicly stated that the current situation with inflation is not a good time for a general election, but analysts say he’s also buying time to consolidate his position before deciding to call polls.

Whether he succeeds depends on whether can stave off pressure from a powerful faction within his United Malays National Organization party that is clamoring for snap polls, analysts add. The government’s term ends next June and elections have to be held by September next year.

Early polls won’t benefit Ismail Sabri but only a clique within UMNO who have been tainted with allegations of massive corruption, Malaysian politics expert Tunku Mohar Mokhtar said.

“[Ismail Sabri] has only about 11 months before the parliament’s term ends. It’s his call, but he’ll try to get a time most preferable for his continuity as the prime minister,” Tunku Mohar said.

“The court cluster, they would want the elections be held the soonest possible probably to distract the masses from their court cases and also strengthen their position in the party. Zahid wants control over nomination of candidates from UMNO/BN,” he told BenarNews.

Tunku was referring to an UMNO faction that includes party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Najib Razak, the former prime minister and UMNO senior leader.

Zahid, who was appointed as the party president in 2018, faces 47 corruption charges.

Najib stands convicted of corruption and has been sentenced to 12 years in prison in a case related to the theft of billions of U.S. dollars from 1MDB, a state sovereign wealth fund. His final appeal against his convictions is scheduled for a hearing next month.

By contrast, Ismail Sabri has no cases against him, but he is not party president and therefore has less of a say in its affairs.

However, he would like to continue as prime minister if UMNO wins the next election and therefore wants to solidify his standing among Malaysians and within his party, said Council of Professors Fellow Jeniri Amir.

“Yes, the government has dished out lots of aid to the people to ease their burden as inflation has hit but it is not enough. [Ismail Sabri’s] work now is to create more initiatives that will benefit the people,” Jeniri told BenarNews.

“He needs to be seen as a prime minister that cares for his people in the next budget tabling. So I foresee, elections may happen in first quarter of 2023 after we see some results from the tabling of 2023 Budget at the end of this year,” Jeniri added.

‘One extra day is one extra day’

Under the pact with the opposition Pakatan Harapan bloc, Ismail Sabri’s government promised it wouldn’t dissolve parliament and call national elections until July 31, in return for its support on key bills such as the budget.

It was signed to ensure the stability of the administration, which at that time was the third one in 18 months of political tumult. It covered six areas, including a COVID-19 recovery plan, administrative transformation, parliamentary reform and judicial independence.

The PM is going to find it difficult justifying why now is not a good time to call elections, according to Awang Azman Awang Pawi, an associate professor at University Malaya.

“The pressure against the prime minister is stronger now as the opposition remains in tatters and is weak,” Awang told BenarNews.

“This is the right time for an election if UMNO/BN wants to win,” he said, referring to Barisan Nasional, the coalition led by UMNO.

Another analyst, Oh Ei Sun, concurred. Although UMNO has announced that Ismail Sabri would be their PM candidate in the next election, he could easily see the rug being pulled out from under him as happened with a chief ministerial candidate in Johor state earlier this year.

“I am not sure if [Ismail Sabri] is thinking about his party, as he is obviously defying the calls of his party to go for an election soon, but he is certainly thinking hard about his political survival,” Oh told BenarNews.

“It will all depend on how Ismail Sabri deals with his party. Like a Chinese proverb says, ‘One extra day is one extra day, [one] must be grateful’,” he said.

MY-pic2.jpg

Parliament and Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (standing) gives his closing speech at the end of a debate on a bill to prevent party-hopping in the lower house of parliament, in Kuala Lumpur, July 28, 2022. [Photo courtesy Malaysia Information Department]

Bill against party-hopping passes

For his part, the PM is being cagey.

On Wednesday, Ismail Sabri told reporters that the cooperation agreement with the opposition wouldn’t be extended beyond Sunday, as his party had already decided, but the government and the opposition would still keep working together on reforms.

“We [the government and the opposition] have agreed there is no need for a written extension on the agreement. We have an understanding, and this understanding will continue until parliament is dissolved,” Ismail Sabri told reporters.

When asked if this meant he planned to dissolve parliament when the pact with the opposition expired, the PM said: “If I feel the time is right to dissolve the parliament, I will dissolve it ... either this year or next year.”

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s parliament on Thursday approved a historic law meant to stem party defections, a major cause of political instability in the country and, lately, the frequent turnover in governments.

Under the so-called anti-hopping law, lawmakers who switch party affiliations after being elected will lose their seats, unless the party sacks them first.

The presentation of the bill was one of the opposition’s key conditions to sign the cooperation pact with the government last September.

The passage of the bill allowed for the amendment of the Federal Constitution to include clauses against political defection. The bill saw 209 (of 220) parliamentarians voting in favor – 11 were absent – exceeding the required two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment.

The anti-hopping law is expected to take effect by or before Sept. 2, according to Parliament and Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

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