To hold or not to hold GE15?

There are many considerations to take into account when deciding on the timing of the country’s next general elections – not to mention the many players trying to influence the decision.

Philip Golingai, The Star

“EVEN the Prime Minister doesn’t know when GE15 will be held,” is my favourite answer when asked about the timing of the 15th General Election. The PM can stick to his timetable depending on whether he can withstand the pressure coming from his party, Umno, to call for GE15, is what I’d add.

On June 1, during Barisan Nasional’s 48th anniversary celebration, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob – who is an Umno vice-president – promised he would not delay, even for a second, the dissolution of Parliament once the coalition was fully prepared. After Ismail Sabri spoke, Barisan chairman and Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the coalition (consisting of Umno, MCA, MIC and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah) is ready.

“Prime minister, we are ready to face GE15,” said Ahmad Zahid, who then asked the 5,000 delegates to stand if they agreed with him. His call received a standing ovation – except for a few like Communications and Multimedia Minister Annuar Musa of Umno, who refused to rise.

A day earlier, Ismail Sabri told the Nikkei Asia newspaper in Tokyo that “We will have to wait for the right time (to call for the election). We are now facing a period of increasing inflation with high prices … do you think this is the right time?” he was quoted as saying.

There are two groups within Umno: those who support holding GE15 as soon as possible versus those who want GE15 only after the PM’s full term ends on July 15, 2023. Depending on which group they’re with, Umno leaders will inflate or deflate the importance inflation plays in determining when polls should be called.

The “as soon as possible” cluster wants the Prime Minister to call for elections now. They fear that inflation will get worse and the rakyat will blame Barisan.

“This is rather a strange government. The new normal in which an Umno member is the PM, but Umno is not dominant.

“Bersatu controls finance, internal security, economy, trade and agriculture. But if the economic situation worsens, the rakyat will be angry with Umno and not Bersatu,” said an Umno insider, referring to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia He added that National Recovery Council chairman and Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is also not in favour of seeing Ismail Sabri serve out his full term.

The Umno insider himself feels now is the best time for the PM to seek the consent of the King to dissolve Parliament because the Opposition is in disarray. “We have to act now before the Opposition gets its act together. Now they are fighting among themselves,” he said.

As of this week, GE15 would likely be a multi-cornered fight with Barisan versus Pakatan Harapan versus Perikatan Nasional vs small parties like Pejuang. As the Melaka and Johor states polls showed, Barisan, which gained 40% of the popular vote, can win big when the Opposition is split. Obviously, the Opposition – except for some parties like Parti Warisan – wants Ismail Sabri to delay polls as long as possible.

The Umno insider revealed that the “GE15 as soon as possible” cluster (made up mostly of party leaders without ministerial posts) and the “GE15 only after the full term” cluster (consisting primarily of Umno MPs in the Cabinet) are negotiating over when would be the best time for GE15.

“It is an odd situation. The party’s vice-president [Ismail Sabri] must listen to the party president [Ahmad Zahid]. But the party president must listen to the Prime Minister. It is the prerogative of the PM and not the party to seek consent from the King to dissolve Parliament,” he pointed out.

He also revealed that one of the Prime Minister’s considerations in making his decision would be his memorandum of understanding with Pakatan that polls will not be held before July 31, 2022. “I believe there is a possibility that elections will be called this year. It can be anytime after July,” he said.

The Umno insider’s revelation that the two clusters in the party are still negotiating indicates that the timing of GE15 has not been determined. Hence my argument that even the Prime Minister doesn’t know when the general elections will be.

In the past, the Prime Minister would know roughly when to call for polls. But it is the first time that the Umno president is not the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister is not the Umno president. Has Umno’s “GE15 as soon as possible” cluster run out of options to persuade/force the Umno vice-president to go for snap polls?

“The president of Umno can take disciplinary action against the PM, an Umno vice-president, for defying the party’s order to call for a snap election. So far, the negotiation is amicable, and there is no need to push the panic button yet,” the Umno insider said. But some in Umno’s “GE15 only after the full term” cluster believe that there are influential players who want Ismail Sabri to serve a full term as Prime Minister.

Playing devil’s advocate, I said: “But they shouldn’t worry that Ismail Sabri would not be PM after GE15 as Umno has named him its poster boy for GE15, right?”

“There’s no guarantee that he will remain Prime Minister if Umno wins big in the general elections,” the insider said.

When will GE15 be held? It’s still anybody’s guess.