Polls likely next year?

Too many events are on the cards this year, especially from now on, with the SEA Games and Budget just round the corner.

Wong Chun Wai, The Star

SIMILAR to how it is for other journalists, I am also frequently asked if I know if the general election will be called soon. Honestly, we wouldn’t know any better.

But let me put my reputation on the line here: I doubt the Prime Minister will dissolve Parliament and make way for a general election in the next few months.

Everything indicates that preparations for the elections have begun, but there is still much groundwork to be carried out by the ruling coalition. It’s clear that it is not ready to call for polls anytime soon as many loose ends still need to be tightened.

The general election must be held no later than 60 days after the expiry of the Government’s five-year term. The start of the five-year term is measured from the date MPs are sworn in at the Dewan Rakyat. And since the parliamentarians were sworn in this term on June 24, 2013, the Government has until Aug 23, 2018 – the deadline – to call for elections.

Over the next few weeks, many Muslims, including Umno members, will be observing their religious obligations with the haj season beginning. The pilgrimage to Mecca, which every adult Muslim is encouraged to undertake at least once in their lifetime, forms one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a life-changing event.

This only means many key figures in the various political parties, who could be involved in the election machinery, will likely be absent during this period.

Then, there are preparations for National Day festivities, what with the nation celebrating its 60th year of independence in August. It’s currently in full swing and involves many links in the chain, particularly government officials at all levels. These resources will surely not be compromised for political work.

The National Day jamboree involves a month’s celebrations coinciding with Kuala Lumpur 2017, the brand name of the 29th South-East Asian Games and the 9th Asean Para Games. The SEA Games will take centrestage from Aug 19 to 31.

Many flag waving events – with pledges of unity, diversity and moderation – have been planned ahead of Aug 31. Quite a few involve the private sector, as well.

But one thing is certain: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will surely want to align Budget 2017 to his advantage. Last week, he took the opportunity to highlight the achievements of his administration over the last four years.

Very noteworthily, the Interna-tional Monetary Fund (IMF) has raised Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth projection for this year to 4.8% from 4.5%, on the back of savvy economic management and commendable monetary policies.

Malaysia registered a GDP growth of 4.2% last year, down from 5% in 2015 and 6% in 2014. The country posted a 5.6% GDP expansion in the first quarter (ending March 31) compared to the same quarter a year ago.

IMF economic counsellor and director of research department Dr Maurice Obstfeld noted that the fund remains optimistic of Malaysia’s economic outlook moving forward.

“We have upgraded our growth outlook for Malaysia this year as we see successful efforts undertaken to increase the sustainability of debt which is on a downward trend.

“Additionally, the country’s steady hand in monetary policies is commendable. Looking at the potential upsides, moving forward, we are optimistic of Malaysia,” Obstfeld shared with the media.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) also upgraded Malaysia’s growth outlook to 4.7% from 4.4% last week, based on stronger GDP growth in the first quarter of the year and driven by rising exports and continued growth in the manufacturing sector.

The forecast by IMF is pertinent because it comes from an independent party and not someone with government links.

Importantly, these rosy numbers should be felt by ordinary Malaysians, or else they remain meaningless figures. In fact, it won’t help the government one bit if the trickledown effect is not felt by the people. These fancy stats will be cynically dismissed by voters.

Malaysians generally feel the market is still soft, so, they are cautious of loosening their purse strings. Many employers have frozen job intake, telling staff tales of increasing operational costs against a declining revenue, a profit trend still in rotation.

The PM would surely want to use the Budget in October to announce a slew of measures aimed at lightening the people’s burdens.

Certainly, the bulk of the civil service – regarded as reliable voters of Barisan Nasional – will want to hear what he has in store for them. It will likely be an election budget, though questions are sure to surface on how we are going to afford these privileges.

By early November, the monsoon season will wreak its havoc, not quite the suited time for voting. Expect plenty of heavy rainfall and floods, particularly in the east coast states. It will hardly be the ideal time to send the nation to polling stations.

December is also the month when most Malaysians begin their holiday season, so there will be a human resource deficit. Again, not a good time to decide fates and fortunes.

Weighing all those variables, it looks like the general election will only be called in 2018, March onwards, meaning, after the Chinese New Year.

We’ll just have to wait and see.