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Election fever in Malaysia

Publication Date : 22-03-2012


Strong speculation over polling date, with May-June school holidays touted as the most likely period for next election


Election talk has gripped Malaysia amid frenzied speculation in the media over possible dates for the next parliamentary polls.

Late May and early June have been bandied about most, because of the school holidays. Schools are often used as polling stations.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has refused to give any hints about the date but he has been visiting voters every week with his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and with members of his ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition's election machinery.

"I'm sure you can appreciate why I can't reveal it...even if I know, I got to keep the trade secret to myself," he told reporters while launching the Foreign Correspondents Club on March19.

Analysts agree that elections would most likely be held during the mid-year school break in June for the BN government to cash in on the goodwill it created by doling out a raft of financial assistance measures in the last few months.

"The way the PM is building the momentum, June looks good," said political scientist Sivapandian Murugan from Universiti Sains Malaysia. "He may call for parliament to be dissolved in May and elections in June."

The other alternative is that Datuk Seri Najib may take it to the limit and hold the elections in the first quarter of next year. The 12th Malaysian parliament first sat on April 28, 2008 and it will have to be dissolved under the Constitution when its mandate ends on April 29 next year.

"That's possible too," said Professor Sivapandian. "But almost everyone speculates it will be in June."

An influential think tank's survey indicated that Mr Najib's popularity, particularly among the lower-income group, has surged in the last six months as a result of the recent handouts.

The government, with an eye on voters no doubt, has also moved on the reform front. It is expected to pass two new laws to replace the Internal Security Act as part of Mr Najib's political reforms during the current parliament sitting that many believe is the last before the elections.

More than 12.5 million Malaysians will be eligible to vote in the elections, 1.6 million more than in the last polls held in 2008. Some two million will be young first-time voters, an important but largely unpredictable voting bloc.

Najib has reached out to the young, not just via social media, but also by attending a major rock concert and participating in a youth-oriented spoof on the popular Hitz.FM radio station.

After the mid-year school break, September appears to be the next available window to call elections before the goodwill from financial assistance runs out, said Prof Sivapandian. Delaying polls would also allow the opposition to play to the gallery with fresh "scandals".

Next month is out, said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political analyst Shamsul Adabi Mamat, largely because of the new King's coronation on April 11.

Ramadan, which starts in mid-July and ends a month later with Hari Raya, is also not the best time for elections as most Muslims will be fasting and returning to their family homes for holidays, he said.

The monsoon season from November to January rules out that period as many areas of the country are prone to flooding.

"2012 may turn out to be most likely," said Prof Shamsul. "But if it's not held in June, the PM may call it early next year."

Prof Ong Kian Ming, an expert on Malaysian elections, said: "The possibility of June elections is based on capturing the momentum from various reforms and plans put in place by the Najib government. A slew of announcements may also continue to be made from now until June." Najib yesterday hinted that he may make an announcement on the government's decision on the proposed minimum wage on Labour Day, May 1.


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