Will GE15 be in 2022 or 2023?

Philip Golingai, The Star

“IF you want to get an idea of what (Datuk Seri) Najib Razak is thinking politically, read the Facebook page of Isham Jalil,” an Umno insider told me.

Isham, a special officer to Najib when he was prime minister, is Selangor Barisan Nasional information chief. Since the fall of Barisan in the 14th General Election (GE14) in 2018, the 45-year-old has emerged as one of Umno’s young, dynamic leaders.

Here’s a little-known fact about Isham: he beat former Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli of PKR as the best debater in the Piala Perdana Menteri in 1991. He lost to Rafizi in the final in the following year. Isham studied politics, economics and law at Harvard University and finance at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

I clicked on a video that Isham had posted on his FB page on Friday. He was speaking in Malay at a meeting with Johor Umno veterans.

“Because they are greedy for their position as ministers in the government. But the longer we wait, there will be more issues we have to answer. It will be a risk for us in the general election. I don’t want to be responsible for this,” he said.

The “they” Isham referred to are Umno ministers like Communications and Multimedia Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa. Annuar had claimed the party’s Supreme Council on Jan 12 had endorsed Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob to continue as Prime Minister until his term ends in 2023.

“If you ask me, this year is an election year. I don’t think we will drag the election until 2023. Do you want elections this year or next year?” Isham said.

“Tahun ini (this year)!” the veterans shouted back in reply.

“I agree. I also want it this year. I don’t agree with anyone from Umno who wants to push it to 2023. Do you agree to push it to 2023?” Isham asked.

The crowd shouted, “Tidak (no)!”

In another Facebook post, Isham shared the screenshot of a Utusan Malaysia news report that said the Umno Supreme Council in its Jan 12 meeting had given the green light to the party to prepare for polls in Johor. He captioned the post with: “PH (Pakatan Harapan) and PN (Perikatan Nasional) do not want Johor polls as they want to hold on to their positions until the term ends. Umno is ready for Johor polls to get a new mandate from the rakyat to expedite political stability and economic recovery. Tan Sri Muhyiddin, when will you press the button?”

He was taunting Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin Yassin, who on Nov 12 last year said: “If he (Umno veteran Tan Sri Shahrir Samad) wants me to press the button (dissolve the Johor state government), I will. Do you want me to make that happen?”

“I’m not afraid, but… I don’t want what happened to the people of Melaka to (happen to) Johoreans,” Muhyiddin told a press conference while campaigning during the Melaka polls in November.

There have been conflicting analyses and reports on whether Johor, just like Sarawak, Melaka and Sabah, would have a state election following the Sheraton Move that felled the Pakatan government in February 2020. Some politicians and political analysts say it won’t happen; others say it is possible.

“What are the chances of Johor holding state polls? It should be easy to call for one, shouldn’t it, as the Johor Mentri Besar is from Umno?” I asked Isham.

“The Umno Supreme Council has given the green light. It is now up to Johor Umno and the Menteri Besar – and with the blessing of the Palace, of course,” he said.

Isham explained that Umno is ready for Johor polls not because it wants power: “They already have power in the state since the MB is from Umno. They want the election because they want a fresh mandate for political stability and a stronger legitimacy to govern and work out policies. It is the same at the federal level,” he told me.

The Umno insider who had directed me to Isham’s Facebook postings explained that the faction in Umno which wants GE15 as soon as possible has to push for Johor polls to create political instability in the country and force the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament.

“Ismail Sabri might be seemingly stable as Prime Minister as he has an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Pakatan not to seek dissolution before July 31, 2022. But that will be moot if Umno and Bersatu continue to fight each other as they did in the Melaka polls and as they will in Johor if there are state polls there,” he said.

“When does Umno want GE15?” I asked Isham.

“Except for some Umno ministers, in general, Umno, from the top to the grassroots, wants an election as soon as possible,” he replied.

“It seems Umno has two schools of thoughts regarding GE15: Most of those in the Umno ‘Cluster Cabinet’ wants GE15 as late as possible, whereas the non-Cabinet Cluster wants it soon. Why are there such different thoughts?” I asked.

“There are no two schools of thought. The ones who want a late election are in the minority,” he said.

On when he thought GE15 was likely to be held, Isham said: “Some-time in the middle this year.”

“Umno is a democratic party, maybe more democratic compared with others looking at how frequently we change our leaders. So the leadership, including the PM, is not immune to the sentiments of the grassroots. If the Umno grassroots want an early election, chances are the leadership won’t go against them,” he said.

On whether he speaks on behalf of Najib, Isham said: “I don’t think anybody speaks on behalf of Bossku. He is his own man.”