KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – If 2020 was a politically weird year, 2021 possibly will be even stranger.
Without a strong party dominating Malaysian politics, there is a possibility that the country’s 15th General Election (GE15) will be held this year.
The plots to bring down the Perikatan Nasional government, which has a razor-thin majority of 111 (based on the number of MPs who voted through Budget 2021) out of 220 MPs, will only get juicier.
Umno – mostly the cluster of members facing court cases – wants to ditch the Perikatan government and work alone or tie-up with Pakatan Harapan for GE15.
A meeting last month of leaders from 13 parties that are a part of the Perikatan government was told that GE15 is likely to be held in the first quarter of 2021.
“The government wants the Budget 2021 allocations to reach the rakyat in January and February, and they don’t want polls to be called after July when the voting age is lowered from 21 to 18. So GE15 is likely around April,” said a source who attended the meeting held in Kuala Lumpur.
But for some politicians, that is just a ploy to pacify the Umno faction pushing for an election.
They forecast that if Umno’s court cases cluster is neutralised, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin could go for a full term, which would be when Parliament automatically dissolves on July 16,2023.
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia politician Datuk Wan Mohd Shahrir Wan Abd Jalil said the party has told him to prepare for March to June to be the window for the next election.
“But somehow it is not certain as the government is still juggling whether it is the right timing to dissolve around that window,” he said.
“There is a possibility – depending on circumstances and new developments – the Perikatan government might go for a full term.”
Umno Youth chief Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said his party had agreed in principle during its previous supreme council meeting that GE15 needs to be held as soon as possible in the first quarter of 2021.
“We need a fresh mandate to make sure the political stability of the country can be preserved,” he said.
Asked whether the Prime Minister would dissolve parliament this year, Mr Asyraf said it depended on the Perikatan government.
“But for me, given the situation in the country today – you could see during the Budget vote how tense the situation is in Parliament with the numbers (supporting the Bill) changing all the time – this situation will only manifest the instability of the political situation in the country,” he said.
That is what Umno wants, but if Mr Muhyiddin delays GE15, what will Umno do, push or be a good boy, I asked Mr Asyraf.
“It is premature to give my view as we are going to have our supreme council meeting soon. I hope the matter is going to be discussed,” he said.
Subang MP Wong Chen of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) does not see GE15 happening in 2021.
“It will depend largely on the uncertain Covid-19 situation, and furthermore, both coalitions have internal issues to improve,” he said.
Mr Wong also said that while new political realignments are very unlikely, coalitions might fracture.
“If any coalition does fracture what you will see will be electoral pacts rather than a formal coalition structure,” he said.
As far as Umno is concerned, according to Mr Asyraf, it is still part of the Perikatan government.
“We are in the midst of seat negotiations with parties in the government. Whether we are going to stick with the present alliance or not, it depends on our current seat negotiations,” he said.
Whether Umno might gang up with Pakatan Harapan in GE15, Mr Asyraf said it would be tough as Umno has made clear its stance on not accepting DAP especially.
“But if such new arrangements need to be explored, then we have to go back to the members to seek their views before the party can make a final decision,” he said.
Wan Shahrir contended that the best possible way for Bersatu and Umno to win seats easily is to avoid fighting each other.
“That is what Bersatu wants. It is up to Umno if it wants it too.
Bersatu doesn’t know what Umno wants. PAS is with Bersatu all the way,” he said.
On whether there is a possibility that Perikatan could collapse, Mr Wong said it is constantly under pressure since its majority is so thin.
“It has a 50:50 chance of collapsing in 2021,” he said.
The one party that could cause a collapse is Umno with its 38 MPs. However, it is a party which currently has no single authority.
“Umno is headless. It is divided into several factions and there are some loose cannons. And not all factions agree on what to do,” said an Umno insider who did not want to be identified.
“For example, the court cases cluster wants to bring down the Muhyiddin government but the Cabinet cluster wants status quo to remain.”
It won’t be easy to topple a sitting Prime Minister, according to Wan Shahrir.
“Even though Muhyiddin is not that strong, everybody else is too weak even to throw a punch. He will remain our Prime Minister until the next election,” he said.
Will Mr Muhyiddin prevail in his war of attrition? Or will politicians who are rakus dan laju (voracious and fast) manage to oust him?
The writer is a columnist with the paper. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.