Malaysia

BN wise to hold polls in 2012, say analysts

By Melissa Chi
November 23, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — Analysts insist that it is more favourable for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to call for snap polls in 2012, amid speculation it will be held as early as next March.

BN should consider crucial factors, such as the current economy, domestically as well globally, its popularity among voters, the country’s budget, especially the issue of bonuses for civil servants, among others, to fix the best date for the next general election, the analysts told The Malaysian Insider.

Political scientist Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said it is advisable to hold the next election in 2012 and attributed the slowing economy as one of the factors for a later snap poll.

Malaysia’s economy slowed slightly to 5.3 per cent growth in the third quarter due to weaker demand from advanced economies, but Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was optimistic the country was still on track to exceed the official growth target of six per cent.

But Sivamurugan said he was told that the US economy might take a further plunge in the middle of next year, so, the prime minister might call for elections ahead of that.

“If they are thinking that’s the main factor, then it will be an early election... But I would suggest to have it in 2012 because by then, the prime minister can throw out the achievements of the major plans announced such as the ETP, because we have yet to see the end results,” he said.

Sivamurugan said BN”s move to accept members directly effective November 20 and the “feel good media” directives, are some of the instruments to indicate an early election, but that does not mean that it will be a smart move for BN.

Dr Lim Teck Ghee, director for the Centre for Policy Initiatives, called those attempts to burnish the BN’s credentials as the “moderate and inclusive” party, ahead of early elections.

“Umno leaders from now on can be expected to put on their best behavior and Umno’s media partners presumably will also be told to not rock the boat. 

“Whilst this is the strategic and smart thing for BN to do, the electorate also has long memories,” Lim said.

He said the ruling coalition should expect Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to counter attack on forgotten election promises and would focus on issues in which the BN “has shown itself incapable of reform”.

Political analyst Associate Professor Dr Samsul Adabi agreed with Sivamurugan that elections should be held at the end of 2011 or early 2012, but most importantly, after the announcement of the 2012 Budget.

He said signs favourable to BN, such as the twin win at the Galas and Batu Sapi by-elections, would be contributing factors in boosting in confidence for the government.

However, Samsul said the government needs another budget to attract the votes from government servants, made up of a majority of Malay voters.

In his 2011 Budget speech, Najib said that there will be no bonuses for the civil servants but gave out a Special Financial Assistance of RM500. The move had caused outrage by many civil servants and the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) president had spoken out against it.

The Najib Administration cited “financial constraints” for not paying bonuses to its 1.2 million civil servants, saying it would incur an expenditure of RM3.1 billion.

“A lot of analysts saw [that] by not giving out bonuses, [the BN  made] a big mistake … because in 2008 most of the voters chose to not vote for BN because of that,” Samsul said, that was not the sole factor.

“That is just one of the many factors but it is … significant for the BN to think about,” he said.

Lim said based on the recent indicators, the government will go ahead with the elections early next year, regardless of the current economic state.

“The problem with the global economy is not only that it is slowing, but also that it could lapse into a double dip, given that the attempts to stimulate growth have so been not been very successful. Hence to wait longer is more dangerous,” he said, echoing Sivamurugan’s predictions.

“At the same time, there is probably a clamour calling on the PM to take advantage of the confusion and disorder being created by Zaid,” he said, referring to former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s abrupt resignation from PKR, the PR lynchpin.

“Zaid has been the total unprecedented spoiler and BN must be rubbing its hands in glee at its unexpected good fortune,” he said.

Sivamurugan, however, highlighted the importance for BN to analyse its strength and weaknesses, rather than depending solely on the flaws of the opposition parties.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar, professor of global studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), enumerated the many issues that BN has to weigh in.

He said it is not just the domestic economy that is in question, but also the global economy as Malaysia is the 19th major trading nation in the world.

“I think you have to look at the situation that is least unfavourable because I don’t think the situation is favourable at the global level,” said the former Keadilan No 2 who added that his was a realistic point of view.

Chandra said other factors to take into account is whether the support for the ruling coalition is growing, whether Umno can recover lost ground, whether the opposition parties are managing well or if PKR’s troubles fester, the growing factionalism within DAP and how will PAS respond to the changing factors.

“So, it’s not going to be easy to fix a date but it has always been like that. So, it is difficult for me to say if the first quarter is better, or the second or the third as the best time to have the election.

“It’s going to be a tough call but they have to do it nonetheless,” he said.

Analysts said the BN convention on November 28, the prime minister’s nationwide tour early next year and the Sarawak elections in April will be the last indications of BN’s strengths and will be “a barometer if the election is near”.

Chandra said the regardless of the timing for the next general election, he has high hopes for the voters who have the real power to improve the ways of the government.

“I only hope that the electorate will try to understand the issues when there is elections.... analyse and study them in-depth and vote according to their conscience and don’t be carried away by superficial emotions. People get all worked up over all sorts of things, if you analyse them, they are very superficial emotions when it comes to the ballot box.”