Ahead of polls, Najib’s last card is the budget

By Shannon Teoh, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 — With less than two years left of Barisan Nasional’s (BN) mandate, hopes of an opportune time for federal polls are slim for Datuk Seri Najib Razak as dissent grows and the economy remains sour.

Politicians from both sides of the divide told The Malaysian Insider that with a cash-strapped Treasury struggling to maintain subsidies in the face of surging inflation, the prime minister should announce an election budget at the end of the year and dissolve Parliament soon after.

Analysts also believe that while heightened racial rhetoric has recovered some Malay support for the ruling coalition, it is a zero-sum game that is delivering centrist voters to Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

“We should have a good budget first. Tun Abdullah Badawi didn’t have such a budget and then called an election,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, referring to the former prime minister who was forced to step down a year after BN recorded its worst showing ever in Election 2008.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali agreed, pointing out the economy was still lagging behind Putrajaya’s six per cent growth target, only recording 4.6 per cent GDP growth in Q1 and is expected to remain under five per cent until June 2011.

“In two years, things can’t get much better. But the question is with the government already short of funds, what can BN promise in its next budget?” the Gombak MP told The Malaysian Insider.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng went further, saying “things are going to get worse for Najib.”

“There is no point waiting. The economy is going to be tougher in 2012 and meanwhile, no logical government will allow the likes of (Malay rights group) Perkasa and Utusan Malaysia to run rampant. It shows that Umno ultras are asking for a bigger slice of the pie. Najib is losing the middle ground,” he said.

Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said this was due to the ease with which issues could be politicised post-Election 2008.

“It doesn’t matter what is the timing. Whenever it is, the opposition will just play up an issue for votes. Najib should just ensure the party machinery is ready because from now to 2013, nothing much is going to change,” the Umno division chief said.