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Saturday, July 30, 2022

Analysts: PM's reform efforts, ROS' approval for Umno, make GE unlikely this year

As Putrajaya’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Pakatan Harapan is nearing its expiry date, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Wednesday affirmed to reporters that he would abide by his party’s decision not to extend the agreement.

However, in saying this, the Umno vice-president hinted that there are several other things left for him to do in his deal with Harapan and no written agreement is necessary to continue having an understanding with the opposition bloc.

Ismail Sabri was also coy about when he would call for the dissolution of the Parliament.

Political analysts who spoke to Malaysiakini believe that the premier was sending a message that he may not be calling for election anytime soon, with some saying that he might even push it to next year altogether.

They added that the Registrar of Societies’ (ROS) approval for Umno to amend its party constitution and postpone its party election up to six months after the 15th general election would also buy more time for Ismail Sabri, who is seen to be more friendly to Perikatan Nasional, to resolve an internal power struggle with a faction led by Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

“The thorny issue of whether or not Ismail Sabri needs to be Umno president can be addressed once GE15 is over as the party has stated that Ismail Sabri will be its prime minister candidate for GE15.

“A delay in Umno’s polls benefits Ismail Sabri more than Zahid if Umno should win GE15,” said Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, associate director at Vriens & Partners, a public policy, government affairs and political risk consultancy.

Meanwhile, Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections (Umcedel) research fellow Awang Azman Awang Pawi said the ROS’ decision has indirectly closed doors for both Umno’s internal and external saboteurs to weaken the party through strife.

“Any internal clashes among contesting camps will fade when there is no party election until after GE15.

“Therefore, there will be a failure to weaken Umno from the outside and also within the party,” Awang Azman told Malaysiakini.

“The ‘Menara Dato Onn’ Umno remains firmly in power despite efforts by the ‘cabinet cluster’ to use the party elections to stage a takeover.

Enjoying support from opposition

Awang Azman added that Ismail Sabri’s remarks on Wednesday could be seen as a signal to both Bersatu and Umno leaders who had been breathing down his neck, including on commitments to implement certain reforms.

“His remarks also bring a message that as the prime minister - he holds the power to decide when is the best time to call for GE15.

“It is also a signal to Bersatu who had been pushing him to give the deputy prime minister post to them, and a signal to certain Umno leaders who had been pressuring him to dissolve the Parliament,” he said.

Singapore-based analyst Oh Ei Sun noted that Ismail Sabri would ideally like to drag out the general election for as long as possible to prolong his time in office amid Umno’s internal power struggle.

“This is because he may be replaced by his party as PM after the election, as the party’s mainstream faction may want somebody who follows orders more closely.

“So Ismail Sabri is basically telling the Umno mainstream faction that despite the expiry of the MOU, he continues to enjoy the support of the main opposition bloc and that he is unlikely to dissolve parliament anytime soon,” he said.

Ismail Sabri was third in line in the party chain of command, but he became PM as Ahmad Zahid faced a slew of corruption charges in court while Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan was not a member of Parliament.

As Ismail Sabri’s political footing was not very strong and he was facing the risk of being ousted by detractors from within his own party, the premier last year signed the MOU with Harapan, where he promised to implement a slew of reforms in exchange for the opposition bloc’s promise to not to support any move to unseat him.

The agreement also saw Ismail promising the opposition that he would not dissolve the Parliament at least until tomorrow (July 31).

“At this point, we still cannot tell when the election will be because it depends on this power struggle between Ismail Sabri and the Umno mainstream faction, which is still ongoing with no clear winning side,” Oh added.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi

Focusing on reforms

Oh’s view was shared by Universiti Utara Malaysia Politics and International Relations senior lecturer Azizuddin Mohd Sani, who said that the premier most likely would push the general election at least until after January.

According to the academician, while Ismail Sabri’s promise not to call an election is coming to its maturity date, he still needs some time before all the promised reforms take effect.

“For example, the Anti-Party Hopping Bill was passed by Parliament yesterday, but it has yet to go through all the process towards being gazetted.

“If I am not mistaken, the earliest it can reach the point of being gazetted and become law would be this January.

“This law needs to be in place before the 15th General Election, so it looks like the election won’t be at least until then,” he said.

Azizuddin said the prime minister is also focusing on implementing reforms to boost his image and gain the people’s trust, especially when he wants to continue to be their prime minister.

On the other hand, Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia said Ismail still has to consider many factors in case he plans to delay the GE further.

While he believed that it would be what the premier wanted, Ismail Sabri still had to worry about how Umno would take the decision.

“I think he’s looking at another platform to have political collaboration with the opposition without any legit documents. He might still need time to look into items agreed upon in the MOU, but there are other factors he may have to consider, like the current economic and political situation, to decide on the general election.

“GE15 can be held as early as October or November if he manages to have an early understanding with the opposition on unresolved matters. But he also has to consider party matters and party decisions as his base is still within the party,” he said.

At the same time, Sivamurugan said the ROS’ decision would allow Umno to focus on GE15 before deciding on its new leadership.

Asked about the impact on Umno’s rivals, Sivamurugan said, “All parties must make their own preparations without relying on the weakness of others”. - Mkini

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