March 25, 2023

Malaysia’s government said on Friday it would announce its 2023 national budget three weeks early on Oct. 7, sparking speculation it could call an early general election.

The polls are not due until September next year, but Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has come under pressure from his party, the United Malays National Organization, for an early vote to dissolve parliament.

Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said in a statement that the budget will be announced on October 7 instead of October 28. He said parliament would bring forward its last session of the year for this purpose.

Ismail Sabri told local media that the decision to announce the budget ahead of schedule is not unusual and other governments have made such decisions.

Oh Ei Sun, from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said: “This is a strong sign that early elections are likely. A significant portion of the population is still in distress, relying mainly on government relief to tide them over. As such, generous budget announcements are typically seen as one way to win over electoral support in the short run.”

Elections must be held within 60 days of the dissolution of Parliament. If it is called this year, it may avoid the year-end monsoon season until late November.

The government’s announcement comes ahead of a special UMNO meeting called Saturday by party chairman Ahmed Zahid Hamidi on election preparations and other current issues.

Umno’s call for early polls intensified after former prime minister Najib Razak lost his final appeal on Tuesday in a corruption case linked to the massive robbery of the 1MDB state fund and immediately began a 12-year prison sentence.

Despite Najib’s conviction, he remains influential within the party and faces four other trials linked to 1MDB. He and Ahmad Zahid, who also faces graft charges, have called for early polls to capitalize on Malay support for the party and returns from the chaotic opposition. Some have accused the pair of trying to speed up the election and seek a favorable outcome for their trial, which they both deny.

Umno, which has ruled Malaysia since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957, was ousted in the 2018 general election amid public outrage over the 1MDB scandal. It is back in power after the reformist government that won the 2018 polls fell due to defections.

Although the current prime minister is from UMNO, he relies on the support of Malay parties. Umno has said it will not work with allies of the incumbent coalition government in the upcoming polls, which aim to win big and therefore will not be held back by any other party.

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