Top three blogs

English blogs


Umno, BN

Techs, guide, templates

MPs and Aduns

Latest from Beras Terpilih

News blogs

2008 list

Videos and Photos

Videos courtesy of Hanief

Monday, November 5, 2007

Why Malaysian polls are not imminent

Today Online (1/11/2007): It is unlikely that Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will call snap elections this year despite many news reports speculating otherwise. Instead, chances are that the general elections will fall between the months of April and August next year.

Recent speculation that polls are imminent has been rampant in Malaysia. For example, new transparent ballot boxes had been transported to the states.

Also, a gathering of federal and state-elected representatives from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition had been originally slated for Oct 21.

At the time, many took that as a sign that elections would be held in November, despite signs to the contrary. For example, until December, the Malaysian Parliament will be debating Budget 2008. Its dissolution would mean that the budgetary process would lapse.

To be sure, snap polls have been held before. In 1999, a desperate ruling party, Umno (United Malays National Organisation), which was fast losing support following the poor handling of the Anwar saga, resorted to elections.

The situation today, by most accounts, is quite different. Apart from Kelantan, where Umno is suffering a four-way internal factional split, Umno is doing rather well among rural Malay electorates.

It is the mostly non-Malay, urban constituencies that are worrying the BN coalition. These are usually ignored by Umno, except when non-Malays happen to hold the balance and the party's future in the Malay heartlands is uncertain.

Some "early poll" theories point to the reality that inflation is set to rise, and that the economy next year would not be as rosy as the government hopes for.

But the economy is now a point of division — rural areas are enjoying a prolonged boom from the high prices of resources like palm oil and rubber. The rural sector also gets subsidies, projects and handouts from the government, funded by petroleum income. This comes as urban folk are suffering from high oil prices and its corollaries. The slow growth of manufacturing is exacerbating the problem.

Yet, from the rural-based Umno's point of view, urban centres have never been their concern.

Also, while the Election Commission is in many ways an extension of the government with limited independence, there is no need to read too much into the new ballot boxes. The Commission's goal was to be "election-ready" by the end of September.

The speculation about early polls is also fuelled by the widespread view that the government wants to prevent former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim — whose previous conviction bars him from active politics until April 14, 2008 — from contesting a seat.

Yet, Malaysia's history shows that elections are the best means by which the government can disarm its critics. Former Premier Mahathir Mohamad used both the 1990 and 1999 elections to crush his two most dynamic challengers, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Mr Anwar Ibrahim, respectively. We must keep in mind that, in the Malaysian context, electoral rules always favour the incumbents.

Young Turks surrounding the Prime Minister, including his son-in-law and Umno Youth's deputy head Khairy Jamaluddin, are openly boasting about "finishing off" Mr Anwar in the elections.

Mr Anwar's party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, has not been an effective political machine. It is starved of resources, lacking in charismatic second-tier leaders, and is badly squeezed by the government on all fronts. It is therefore not likely that Mr Abdullah would base such a vital decision as fixing the date for elections on the need to neutralise one single opponent, and one whose options are rather limited.

In an exclusive front-page interview with a Chinese newspaper recently, Guang Ming Daily, Mr Nazri Aziz, Minister in Prime Minister's Department, ruled out elections for this year, and for any time before Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 7 next year.

He said it would be unwise for the government to call for elections when Muslims were away on pilgrimage trips in November and December.

"The government would also be blamed if an election is called around Chinese New Year," he said.

Mr Nazri also pointed out another significant detail: The current Parliament will reach its four-year mark only on May 17 next year.

There has only been one occasion when the Parliament was dissolved in less than four years. In April 1982 — four months short of the Parliament's four-year mark — Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for elections in order to seek his first mandate after succeeding Mr Hussein Onn in July 1981.

Malaysia's five-year cycle is inherited from the British. Polls must be called within 60 days of the Parliament's expiration. In other words, the government has until mid-July 2009 to consider elections.

Nonetheless, Mr Abdullah is constrained by one factor — Umno's party elections. The ruling party has postponed its internal polls — which are always hotly-contested — for 18 months, from September to around March 2009. He will wish to call for general elections without first letting the party go through apotentially divisive party election.

Next year's fasting month will start in early September, after which the same cycle — of pilgrimages, year-end floods (which disadvantages the government), Christmas/New Year holidays, and Chinese New Year celebrations — kicks in.

Practically then, this leaves us with a window of April to August next year for the next general elections. While it is wiser, especially for politicians, to speculate that polls will be called early so as not to be caught off guard — so that the Prime Minister can then prove them wrong — I would nevertheless say that it is probable that polls will be held in July/August.

In Malaysian history, five elections (1955, 1959, 1974, 1978, 1986) were held in July/August and four (1964, 1982, 1995, 2004) in March/April. Only one was held in May (1969), in October (1990) and in November (1999).

It is no coincidence that elections are mostly held in the March/April and July/August periods. The weather plays a part in this. As campaign periods are very short — only seven-and-half days in 2004 — good weather is a must for all contending parties, not least for the government. These two periods usually coincide with sunny days throughout most of the country.

Further, the ruling coalition's election machine is increasingly oiled through government contracts for construction and services. Yet, as of Aug 31, only 10.7 per cent of the 29,947 projects approved under the 9th Malaysia Plan were completed. Money aplenty is still in the pipeline but it takes a while to flow and facilitate election campaigns.

Since Mr Abdullah is not in a rush to win a new mandate, it is likely that he might opt for the latest possible safe date — July/August 2008.

Liew Chin Tong is executive director of the Kuala Lumpur-based Research for Social Advancement and a member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a Malaysian political party.


Top three blogs

Listed by The Wayang Party Club of Singapore Malaysia Today
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
Lim Kit Siang

English blogs


MPs, Aduns

2008 list

  © Blogger template 'Perfection' by 2008

Back to TOP