National Elections: Err on the side of caution, advises EIU
by Shannon Teoh
Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s position as UMNO president and prime minister will be at risk if Barisan Nasional (BN) “fails to secure a resounding victory” in snap polls anticipated this year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Its latest country report on Malaysia said that with UMNO’s internal elections postponed to 2012, its president will need a strong mandate in a general election this year.
“If the party fails to secure a resounding victory in the snap general election… there would be even greater resistance to economic reforms, undermining the credibility of the prime minister, Najib Razak , and potentially placing his position as president of UMNO — and hence his role as head of government — at risk,” said the EIU in this month’s report on Malaysia.
It also named Najib’s deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the most likely contender to be Najib’s replacement. UMNO’s support base sees him as a champion of Malay rights and privileges and a shrinking presence in Parliament will be interpreted by more hawkish factions as a threat to Malays.
Najib’s moves to liberalise and relax economic guarantees for Bumiputeras would provide fodder for right-leaning elements to push for a more hardline leader.
In its report, the EIU also warned that while BN was expected to maintain power after the next general election, “the ability to make or break BN” has been in the hands of politicians from Sabah and Sarawak whose bloc of 52 MPs now make up nearly two-fifths of BN’s 137 seats in Parliament.
“Unresolved issues, such as illegal foreign immigration to Sabah, may cause the BN parties based in Borneo, or individual MPs from the island, to defect to the opposition or use the threat to do so to secure greater influence within the coalition in the run-up to the next general election.
“Moreover, the Borneo-based parties will become even more influential if MPs from the island retain their seats at the next election and a substantial number of BN legislators based in Peninsular Malaysia lose theirs,” the report said.
The Sarawak state polls must be called by July 2011 and will be a severe test of what has been a BN stronghold. A shaky performance will likely destabilise parties that have been loyal to BN there.
UMNO announced in November last year that it had postponed internal party elections for 18 months which intensified speculation that a snap general election could be called in the first half of 2011. Twice in recent history, when UMNO has postponed its party polls, a general election has then been held within a year.
The EIU report also noted that BN has been boosted by victories in two recent by-elections — Galas in Peninsular Malaysia and Batu Sapi in Sabah — which may have marked a turning point in terms of voter support for the governing coalition after an initial run of consecutive defeats.