Najib mulls early polls as numbers pick up

PREDICTING an election date is tricky business but signs are emerging that Prime Minister Najib Razak is once again mulling seeking a new mandate this year. 

He has been ‎meeting different stakeholders to praise and talk up his administration’s track record in managing the economy, and showing himself to be a man completely in power in Umno.

The message to Umno power brokers has been unmistakable: that Najib is their best to take on and defeat Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his new-found allies. 

And where necessary, the PM and his advisers have used the stick approach, making it clear to civil servants that their job security and well-being are connected directly to a Barisan Nasional (BN) victory in GE14.

Najib has also been encouraged to consider holding elections by year-end by a decision by national oil company Petronas to pay its yearly dividend to the government ‎earlier than expected. The Malaysian Insight understands that Petronas communicated this decision to the PM recently. 

Petronas has promised to contribute at least RM13 billion this year, down from the RM16 billion last year, although better oil prices could increase the dividend payout this year. 

‎Umno insiders also believe that the government will need to make one or even two Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) payments before the polls to win over segments of BN’s traditional supporters – urban poor and civil servants – who have been hit hard by the rising cost of living.

The early dividend from Petronas will enable the revenue-strapped administration to give cash handouts, sources say. 

Also on the cards is a visit in September by a top-level delegation from China to witness the launch of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) construction. 

The ECRL is one of the major infrastructure projects involving China and is a major part of Najib’s narrative that despite all the negative press surrounding 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB)  and his alleged involvement, he is still able to attract valuable investments into Malaysia. ‎

Within Umno, the nagging question has always been this: is there an advantage to hold elections this year long before the mandate ends in the middle of 2018‎? 

The school of opinion pushing for early polls argues that ‎the macroeconomic numbers are good; Najib’s position in Umno is very strong and the opposition is far from the energised and fluid force it once was in 2013. 

In addition, as long as Hadi Awang leads PAS, there is little chance of the Islamist party working with Pakatan Harapan, thwarting the opposition’s preferred option of a one-to-one fight in all constituencies.

Those in Najib’s camp urging him to hold the elections next year also make a compelling case. They argue that much work still needs to be done to blunt anger on the ground over the rising cost of living. Also, the political situation in Sabah and Johor – traditional BN strongholds – is too uncertain.

And this lobby notes that Abdullah Badawi fared badly in 2008 when he sought a new mandate a year ahead of time with ‎a bunch of issues on the ground unresolved. – July 22, 2017.