Sunday, March 7, 2021

Threat of pandemic polls with ‘court cluster’ plan to force election

After a failed plan to gather support for Anwar Ibrahim, a group of Umno MPs may use next month's budget to force snap polls.

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The recent sharp rise in Covid-19 infections could spiral into an even bigger wave of the deadly pandemic if a group of former government leaders decides to derail the passing of the 2021 budget next month to trigger a general election.

MalaysiaNow can reveal that frantic appeals by their colleagues in Perikatan Nasional not to pursue the threat have so far fallen on deaf ears, giving Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin no choice but to prepare “for the most difficult part of his rule since taking over the top office in March”.

The pandemic was first detected in Malaysia at the beginning of the year, at a time when internal squabbles in Pakatan Harapan were building up to its eventual collapse in February.

A fragile majority was quickly gathered by Muhyiddin, whose first task was to manage one of the worst national crises since independence, forcing the government to spend billions on economic sectors hard hit by a nationwide lockdown.

That majority was helped by the en bloc entry of 39 MPs from Umno, which included a group of leaders who have been slapped with scores of corruption charges.

They include Najib Razak and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the pair who helmed the Barisan Nasional government and who, between them, face 79 charges of corruption, breach of trust and money laundering.

‘Plan B’

In a recent explosive revelation, MalaysiaNow reported that the duo had backed PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim in his recent mission to overthrow Muhyiddin through defections.

But with the crumbling of Anwar’s coup plan, it is learnt that “at least six” MPs are ready to initiate “Plan B”.

“Plan B essentially means not voting to pass the budget, which will be tabled on Nov 6.

“That means the collapse of the government, leaving the system with no choice but to call for a snap election,” said a person privy to intense discussions this week as officials weigh their options to avoid an election during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the Westminster convention which requires the government to have majority support in the Dewan Rakyat, failure to pass the federal budget would mean that it has lost that support.

“Such a likelihood, in the current confusion, means no other way but a general election to choose the next government,” the same source said.

“Plan B essentially means not voting to pass the budget, which will be tabled by Muhyiddin on Nov 6.”

Experts have warned against holding snap polls during the pandemic season.

In the last three days alone, Malaysia recorded close to 2,000 new Covid-19 infections, with some of the nation’s busiest economic centres returning to stricter variants of the movement control order.

In the first 20 days of October, Malaysia recorded 57 Covid-19 fatalities, about a third of the total deaths recorded between January and September this year.

Personal interests vs public health?

The spike began just days after the Sabah state election, which saw crowds at campaign events and more rapid travel between the peninsula and the Borneo state.

That outcome sparked a warning by the head of Putrajaya’s committee tasked with reforming the electoral system against any move to call for snap polls.

Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, a former chairman of the Election Commission who heads the Electoral Reforms Committee, said an election at this time would spark a “national health disaster”.

“The Sabah election proved this as the authorities did not have the capacity to check and control, given the volume of campaign activities all over the country. My plea is, please, don’t call for elections now,” he told MalaysiaNow early this month.

It remains to be seen whether such an appeal will be heeded by the so-called “court cluster”, a nickname given to the group of MPs who are facing corruption charges.

As of now, there are strong signs that they are bent on derailing the passing of the budget next month.

Apart from Najib and Zahid, who have made no secret of their dislike for Muhyiddin’s government, four other MPs are facing dozens of corruption charges.

Still, it is not clear if all of them will follow their former bosses in not voting to pass the budget next month.

“It is about their personal interests colliding with public interests,” an aide to a former minister told MalaysiaNow.

If this collision of interests leads to Muhyiddin’s budget not being passed, the prime minister may have no choice but to dissolve the Parliament to make way for an election.

A recent study by the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations showed that pandemic-season elections may see low voter turnouts and defeat the democratic process.

And in Malaysia’s case, there is no guarantee that it will not lead to a hung parliament or a government at the risk of collapsing at any time, even when it is most needed to battle the deadly but invisible enemy of Covid-19.

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