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Ahead of 99-style 'election budget', PH in desperate bid to avert polls

Umno is gunning for a 'quick and swift' mandate, taking a leaf from Dr Mahathir Mohamad's move to renew his term in 1999 just days after presenting the budget.

3 minute read
Voters queue to cast their ballots during the Melaka state election last year.
Voters queue to cast their ballots during the Melaka state election last year.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob looks set to finally accede to demands from his party not to further delay the dissolution of Parliament and call for the 15th general election (GE15), a move that has triggered the panic button in Pakatan Harapan (PH).

The opposition coalition almost instantly went into "campaign mode" - but not for the purpose of winning any impending elections.

A PKR MP told MalaysiaNow that the coalition was now in a losing battle to "fight off elections at all costs at this point".

"It's a losing battle, and it is very likely that polling day less than two months from now is unstoppable," the MP said.

Since the announcement that Budget 2023 was brought forward to Oct 7, PH supporters have taken to social media in a last-ditch effort to convince Ismail not to dissolve Parliament.

They have cited everything from the weather to suggestions that Umno is betraying Ismail by gunning for polls.

They include Ambiga Sreenevesan, who has switched to praising Ismail in the hope that he would not "succumb to Umno warlords".

"At this point, there is a level of calm and stability," Ambiga, who only a year ago slammed the appointment of Ismail as prime minister and launched a petition to oust him, told Malaysiakini.

"Some commendable pieces of legislation have been passed. There is no reason for there to be elections," she said.

Others cited the coming monsoon season and expected floods, accusing the government of making it difficult for the people to cast their ballots.

"This time, if they really want to hold GE15 in November, which is usually the start of the rainy season, Umno will continue to make things difficult for the people," said one PH supporter in a tweet promoted by DAP's Syahredzan Johan.

The concerns of an election in the PH camp underlie a common perception that polls held at this time would be disastrous for PH, whose government collapsed in 2020 following internal bickering over the choice of leadership successor.

The coalition has never recovered from its loss of power, with efforts now underway to introduce a new common logo for the polls which are expected to see collisions between multiple opposition parties.

A memorandum of understanding, signed between PH and Ismail last year, ensured that the general election would be pushed back, allowing the coalition to buy time as it struggled to regain its strength.

But the recent jailing of former prime minister Najib Razak has only lowered PH's chances, especially in getting the crucial Malay votes which swung in PH's favour in 2018.

The budget re-schedule is confirmation that Ismail can no longer stall the election, something that the so-called court cluster led by Najib and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi have been pressing for.

Speedy '99-style’ polls

Several Umno sources who spoke to MalaysiaNow said the plan was for a "quick and swift mandate", taking a leaf from the course of action by an embattled Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1999.

Facing the greatest threat to his leadership, Mahathir decided to call for snap polls in late November 1999, a month after the 2000 budget was presented under the cloud of rare street protests following the dramatic sacking of Anwar Ibrahim as finance minister a year earlier.

Parties were then given just nine days to campaign, as Mahathir sought to put to rest claims that his government had lost support in order to focus on tackling the impact of the Asian economic crisis.

His BN government went on to claim a two-thirds majority on the back of strong non-Malay support, although it suffered setbacks in Malay heartlands with PAS making its biggest parliamentary inroads.

"This time, polling day in mid-November is the most likely scenario, in fact the only practical scenario, even if the campaign period may not be as short as nine days as in 1999. Plus, more delay would risk elections too near or within the monsoon season," said one source.

The bringing forward of the budget presentation by three weeks to Oct 7 means that polls can be held just a little more than a  month after that.

"So by mid-November, all questions will be answered," said an Umno branch leader representing a division leader attending a party meeting today.

"Clearly, the 2023 budget will be the manifesto for Barisan Nasional to wrest back power, just like the 2000 budget was tabled and Parliament dissolved less than two weeks later," said the source.

"All that has to be done is to announce the budget, and dissolve Parliament few days later."