Umno bullish on snap polls despite Sabah, Sarawak BN call for delay
KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 — The massive congregation of Umno supporters which turned Bukit Jalil Stadium into a sea of red for its 66th anniversary has left the party’s rank-and-file eager for early elections despite Sabah and Sarawak partners calling for Datuk Seri Najib Razak to stay his hand.
The prime minister has engaged in much fighting talk of late, calling on the crowd of at least 50,000 Friday night to ensure Malaysia is not “destroyed” by “uncivilised enemies” on the back of violence seen emanating from both police and protestors at the April 28 Bersih rally.
While the Umno president took time yesterday to have breakfast in Bangsar with four Twitter followers and attend a wedding dinner later that same night ahead of a vacation in the next two weeks, party leaders are talking up the likelihood of polls being called by next month.
Their confidence appears to stem from the belief that their gathering outnumbered that of the opposition-backed rally for free and fair elections.
Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said that when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad asked his father, Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat, to organise a similar gathering before the 1989 elections, the then information minister could only muster a crowd of about 40,000.
“Friday was easily double and more than Bersih. We are ready to go. It has always been about getting the machinery ready. The question of timing is not really a Barisan Nasional (BN) concern but that of the opposition,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
Umno supreme council member Puad Zarkashi was also quoted by various newspapers as saying that Najib “is confidant now is the right time.”
“What Najib said about asking for an audience with the Agong shows the 13th General Election is near,” the deputy education minister said, referring to Najib’s joke about asking the Agong to dissolve Parliament “tomorrow.”
Senior Sabah Umno lawmaker Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin, who is also the BN backbenchers’ deputy chief, added that the ruling party is “ready enough” to follow Najib who will lead BN into polls for the first time.
“I will not be shocked if Parliament is dissolved next week,” he was quoted as saying by Sinar Harian.
But his state BN colleagues have called for polls to be delayed until the second half of the year, a sentiment echoed by their neighbours in Sarawak.
They have cited ongoing celebrations for the Keamatan and Gawai Dayak harvest festivals but Sabah BN has also been pushing for a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) into the illegal immigrant problem there for months now.
Federal Cabinet ministers who hail from the state have said such an inquiry “will have little value” if announced after elections and that the issue puts their “political lives on the chopping block”.
“We heard that Parliament could be dissolved any time now. But we feel it is better for it to be done after Kaamatan so as not to disrupt the celebrations,” Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) information chief Datuk Johnny Mositun was quoted as saying by The Star today.
PBS is BN’s largest Sabah-based party, and has been a leading voice, along with United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, in calling for the RCI to be held before polls.
The newspaper also reported Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Tan Sri James Masing as saying BN would not fare well should polls be held next month.
Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, a supreme council member of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), which is the mainstay of Sarawak BN, also said that “Najib wants to solve all problems well first.”
“I think the earliest will be early July before Ramadan or after Aidilfitri in September,” the Deputy Dewan Rakyat Speaker was quoted as saying by Sinar Harian.
But analysts told The Malaysian Insider that “the internal momentum has peaked” for the ruling coalition after riding on the back of political reforms and the RM500 cash handout to poor households under the Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) scheme.
“The thinking has always been to hold it before Ramadan. By September, it will be too far and you cannot, for example, repeal the Internal Security Act twice,” political scientist Ong Kian Ming said.
But Ong and Ibrahim Suffian, of independent pollsters Merdeka Center, also said the turnout has “minimal electoral impact” and Umno must be wary of the middle ground which will not be swayed by mere speeches.
“Umno’s grassroots know this is a critical election for their parties and their own individual careers. The question is whether they will be taken in by the message to unify behind Najib. There is still the belief that Umno just can’t lose,” Ibrahim added.
Umno supreme council member Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah also told The Malaysian Insider “the May 11 assembly is a demonstration that Umno is able to do what is needed when required.”
“Machinery wise, Umno is fully prepared for GE13. But a recent survey showed 30 per cent of voters are undecided, bigger than in previous surveys.
“Most respondents are reluctant to openly say they will vote for the opposition so Umno-BN must be very cautious of the middle ground,” the deputy higher education minister said.
Bloomberg had cited last month several unnamed government officials as saying that June 3 is the proposed date for what is likely to be the tightest contest in Malaysian electoral history.
But the Umno president will be overseas at various times throughout this month and BN sources told The Malaysian Insider July is a likelier date before the Ramadan fasting month begins on July 19.
Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim also told The Malaysian Insider he would not hold elections until the second half of the year, which would deny Najib the chance to win back the country’s richest state and help cement his hold on power.
Observers say the Pekan MP needs to improve on Election 2008, during which BN lost a record 82 federal seats and five state governments and only a return to its customary two-thirds majority of Parliament would guarantee his survival.