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Mid-March 'likely' for Malaysian polls

Publication Date : 11-01-2013

 

As the government busies itself with dishing out goodies, the timeline for their distribution is being closely watched by Malaysians for clues as to the timing of the general election.

With nearly 4 billion ringgit (US$1.32 billion) in one-off handouts due to be disbursed to millions of retirees, poor households and students in the next few months, election observers say polls look likely to be held well after Chinese New Year in mid-February.

"At mid-March, there might be room to hold elections before Parliament is automatically dissolved," said Professor Shamsul Adabi Mamat, political analyst at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), one of the longest-ruling governments in the world, is expected to face a tough challenge from its most organised opposition yet. Its mandate runs out on April 28 and elections must be held no later than 60 days after, or end June.

Between now and March, the government is set to hand out 250 ringgit in book vouchers to university students, 200 ringgit in smartphone rebates to the young, and 500 ringgit in cash assistance for households earning 3,000 ringgit or less, and is likely to want to capitalise on the feel-good factor.

A likely window for elections could be the March 23 weekend, as it falls at the start of the school holidays but before the Good Friday holiday, said Prof Shamsul.

The next session of Parliament is scheduled to start in mid-March. While Prime Minister Najib Razak may be reluctant to ask for a dissolution midway in deference to the King, who will open the session, there is another factor at play. The Negri Sembilan state assembly, controlled by the BN, is the first state to end its mandate, on March 26. All other states - except one other - have until April 28.

This may prompt the Prime Minister to seek to dissolve Parliament and the state assemblies before March 26.

After dissolution, the Election Commission will set a date for nomination, followed by at least 11 campaign days before polling.

So mid-March till mid-May looks likely, analysts said. Then the calendar gets busy again: Vesak Day is on May 24, the King's birthday is on June1, and the harvest festivals of the indigenous ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak fall on May 30 and June1 and usually go on for some time.

Some analysts said that by handing out so many one-off payments, the government risks a backlash when the goodies stop.

"They (the government) use goodies to sway your feelings near the elections. They may be sweet now but could be bitter if they are retained," said Stanley Teoh, a former air force serviceman living in Petaling Jaya.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief of the think-tank Ideas, agrees. "The problem is that Malaysian society has become desensitised to handouts and increasingly, we are expecting these offers to come from politicians," he told The Straits Times.

Mohd Raside Shafad, who is pursuing a master's degree in chemical engineering at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Selangor, is happy to get his 200 ringgit smartphone rebate and 250 ringgit book voucher. "I'm glad the government is giving these out because any assistance will help a lot," he said.

Still, he said, he has not decided who to vote for in the elections.

 

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