Snap polls still on table for Najib

Malaysian Insider
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 9 — While Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is aware of the risks, an early election remains an option as his administration faces up to an uncertain economic climate, Singapore’s Straits Times reported today.
According to the report, Najib is weighing whether to call for snap parliamentary polls over the next six months, so as to secure a fresh mandate that will allow him to push ahead with painful political and economic reforms.
But there remains strong opposition towards the snap elections option.
The Malaysian Insider had reported earlier this week that Umno warlords and key aides have been telling Najib to delay any idea of snap polls to secure his personal mandate.
Opponents to an early election say the Najib should not assume his personal popularity meant that the party is more acceptable to the people.
The prime minister’s approval ratings rose to 72 per cent in May, according to the last Merdeka Center survey, which said it was bolstered by a sense that the nation was headed in the right direction.
The country’s economy grew 9.5 per cent in the first half of the year and the Najib administration believes that Malaysia can exceed its six per cent growth target for 2010.
The stronger economy has fuelled speculation that he might call for snap polls by the first half of 2011 although an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report last week dismissed such talk, saying the results of recent by-elections suggest that the electorate has become much more volatile — especially non-Malay voters.
Non-Malay voters have been turned off by calls from Malay rights groups such as Perkasa for Najib to keep affirmative action measures from the New Economic Policy (NEP) in his New Economic Model (NEM) which envisions an open high-income economy. Najib received the NEM final report last week and is due to release it next month.
But developments this week indicate Umno intends to cut its ties with Perkasa because of the fallout with non-Malay voters.
By doing so, Umno risks alienating conservative Malay voters, many of whom support the strident stand of Perkasa.
Today’s Straits Times reported that close associates had said that the PM was facing strong opposition from powerful factions within his own ruling Umno party, who argue that early elections would be disastrous and that Najib should serve out the full term which ends in March 2013.
The Singapore newspaper said that Umno politicians who are not in favour of early polls argue that the party has yet to renew its appeal with the Malays, the ruling party’s traditional constituency.
“Malaysia’s recent political history shows that voters are generally favourable towards new prime ministers. (Tun) Abdullah (Ahmad Badawi) and his predecessor (Tun Dr) Mahathir Mohamad led the BN coalition to landslide victories when they called for elections within months of assuming the premiership.
“But whether Najib will enjoy similar good fortune is uncertain. Politicians who count themselves in the premier’s camp believe that Najib should push ahead with early polls while the economic conditions are favourable,” the newspaper reported.
They argue that should Malaysia’s economy falter, it stands to lose votes, particularly those of younger Malaysians who have no historical allegiance towards the Umno-led government and are more open to supporting the opposition, the Straits Times said.
The newspaper added that another reason for early parliamentary polls is that it could help Najib consolidate his power in the faction-riven ruling party.
Umno divisions nationwide are set to hold elections next year to elect office bearers who will vote in the all-important party elections scheduled for 2012. Having national elections ahead of party polls means party leaders can try to field supporters as candidates for the national legislature, a gambit that will give these candidates an edge in the party’s divisional elections.