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Friday, November 9, 2007

Malaysian general election in March?

STS From Malaysia Today (8/11/2007): November and December are out. March is now being bandied about as the likely date for an early general election in Malaysia.

This new window - after Chinese New Year on Feb 7 - seems to be gaining traction among Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders, who have taken into account several factors, including current voter concerns.

Excitement over imminent elections filled the hall of the Umno General Assembly on Monday when Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said: 'The political radar is getting clearer and the temperature is heating up.

'Our confidence in repeating our victory in the coming elections is well-founded.'

Just weeks ago, there was intense speculation that an election would be held by the end of this year, but some Umno leaders say current indications by the party leadership point to a date after the Chinese New Year, possibly in March.

All these dates, however, are still speculation because the decision to call an election depends solely on BN's chief, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

The government's current term ends in early 2009.

Those who have said the polls were imminent this year have tried to justify their prediction on the basis that the government would want a fresh mandate before fuel prices soar even higher.

The government has promised not to raise fuel prices at all for the whole of this year.

But it might have to raise prices by early January to reduce the burden of fuel subsidies. In the first eight months of the year, the government spent RM16 billion (S$6.9 billion) just to keep prices at current levels. That amount exceeds the RM15 billion for the whole of last year.

The last time the prices of petrol, diesel and LPG were raised in Malaysia was in February last year, when global oil prices hovered around US$61 (S$88). The global oil price hit more than US$98 a barrel yesterday.

In a closed-door briefing to party chiefs on Monday, Datuk Seri Abdullah devoted the bulk of his hour-long speech to his concern about the global energy crisis. He said the fuel subsidies at current levels are not sustainable as they eat deeply into government expenditure.

But Umno Youth leader Mukhriz Mahathir said the oil issue is just one factor the government would consider.

'I do not think we decide on an election date based on something that happens outside the country. We feel confident that we can address the issue,' he said.

Malaysia is also a net exporter of oil, and state oil firm Petronas is reaping a windfall from soaring prices, which must mean soaring tax revenues for the government as well. Every US$1 rise in oil price adds RM250 million to its revenue a year.

A December election date is also regarded as unlikely by others because of the annual flooding caused by the monsoon season.

Last December and early January this year, many areas in the staunchly Umno Johor state were inundated, along with wide swathes of Pahang and Malacca.

Said a political source: 'If elections are to be held this year, none of the Umno movers I spoke to have received instructions.' He was referring to the transfer of political funds for party buntings and T-shirts, and the booking of public meeting halls in constituencies.

Selangor Menteri Besar Khir Toyo was more direct when asked on Monday about the polls: 'You can be sure it will not be held this year.'

A key issue that might delay the election until the Chinese New Year is this: Many urban Chinese voters are thought to be unhappy with the government's handling of the economy, the rising crime rate and issues of race and religion. Raising the oil price just before the Chinese New Year could thus be seen as a politically insensitive move, political leaders say.

Also, calling out voters after March would more accurately reflect the BN's practice in the past 11 general elections.

History has shown there has never been polls held before four years of a five-year term, said Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department M. Kayveas.

Reasons cited for holding polls...

...this year

1. Government may need to raise fuel prices next year.

2. Inflation is expected to worsen.

3. Chinese support may drop due to their perception that the government is handling poorly the economy, crime rate, and race and religious issues.

4. Fear that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad may resume his attacks on Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi when he recovers fully from heart surgery.

5. Stop opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim from taking part as an election ban on him expires only on April 15. year

1. Datuk Seri Abdullah wants to make the ground sweeter by pushing big projects in mostly rural areas and raising economic growth.

2. Keeping with tradition as the Barisan Nasional (BN) has never gone to the polls until it completes four years of its five-year term.

3. Datuk Seri Abdullah wants to improve the government's record on fighting crime and corruption.

4. The annual end-of-year moonsoon season and flooding in the east coast.


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