KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 9 ― A monsoon-season election in Malaysia could threaten turnout and hurt the credibility of the result, a government minister said, signalling the vote is likely to now be held next year.
Those factors are among large downside risks to having the general election during the monsoon period, Trade Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said on Tuesday in an interview in Vietnam, where he is attending meetings related to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. The rough weather is typically at its worst from November to January.
Malaysia is due for a general election by August 2018, but there’s been speculation Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak may call it sooner to capitalise on a feel-good budget and an opposition in disarray. While analysts still expect Najib’s Barisan Nasional alliance ― in power for six decades ― to win a majority of seats, rising living costs threaten to chip away at the ruling coalition’s support.
“There are a lot of uncertainties and the risk to the downside is so large, having an election then, in my personal view,” said Mustapa, who is also a state party leader for the United Malays National Organisation, the biggest group in the coalition. “There are floods now in Penang and Perak and Kedah. When there are floods, of course people would be immobilised. That restricts mobility, movement of people and turnout would be very low.”
Mustapa is Umno chief for Kelantan, a northern state controlled by the opposition and prone to flooding during monsoons. In late 2014 and early 2015, the loss of public properties from the worst floods to hit Kelantan were estimated at RM1 billion, dealing a blow to the poorest state in the nation by nominal gross domestic product per person.
Another Opposition-held state is now experiencing one of the worst floods in its history after thunderstorms on Saturday. At least seven people died in Penang and thousands have fled to evacuation centers, Bernama news agency reported. Losses for small and medium-sized enterprises are estimated at about RM200 million, The Edge reported.
The federal government had allocated RM150 million for flood mitigation projects in Penang, and was considering more, Najib said this week. He had earlier urged that the disaster not be politicized and said the people’s welfare and security are priorities.
“If you have an election on a wet day and turnout is say 50 per cent, that’s not good for whoever wins the election,” Mustapa said. “In any democracy if you get elected by turnout of only 50 percent I think that’s not a credible government, so in my view it’s tough to have elections in November or December. But anything can happen.”
Barisan Nasional won the 2013 election by its narrowest margin yet, losing the popular vote for the first time. Najib has weathered allegations of graft related to a state investment fund that he’s denied and has been cleared of any wrongdoing, though the scandal has clouded his government for more than two years.
While the economy is still growing, costs of living are also rising, and the government has faced voter angst over its implementation of a goods and services tax in 2015.
“We said the last election was the mother of all elections and this time around this election is going to be important as well,” Mustapa said. “The last few months we can see signs of people coming back to us. The budget recently, I think many would agree, has resulted in this feel-good factor coming back to our side and we believe we have been getting some momentum.”
Asked if the election would be tight, he replied: “There’s been ups and downs but in the last few months I think there’s been a pickup in support for Barisan Nasional.”
Najib may be helped by a fractious Opposition that has strong ideological differences, especially over issues related to race and religion. Opposition parties are expected to compete against each other in some districts.
“People are disillusioned with the Opposition,” Mustapa said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty on the other side. We are an old party but we have done a lot of regeneration in the last few years and we stand a good chance.”
Aside from the budget, Najib has been burnishing his credentials with ethnic Malay voters especially in rural areas. They make up the core supporters of Umno and the majority of the population.
“The Malays have always been important, we cannot deny that fact,” Mustapa added. “We know there’s been a split among Malays. But in the last few months despite the activities of the Opposition, frankly, we believe that most Malays believe that we are the party that has been championing not only their cause but the cause of all Malaysians.” ― Bloomberg