Malaysia announces early election amid persistent in-fighting

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri says he has dissolved parliament and the election date will be decided by the election commission.

A restaurant customer watches Ismail Sabri announcing the dissolution of parliament on television
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob hopes to secure a stronger mandate in early elections [Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters]

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has called early elections after months of political in-fighting among politicians in his ruling coalition.

Speaking on state television on Monday, Ismail Sabri said the date of the election, which has to be held within 60 days of parliament’s dissolution, would be announced by the elections commission.

The election was not due until September of next year, but Malaysia has been riven by political instability since the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was toppled in May 2018 – the first time it had been out of power in more than 60 years – amid the multibillion-dollar scandal at 1MDB over which former Prime Minister Najib Razak has been jailed.

Ismail Sabri is one of UMNO’s vice presidents and has been ruling in a shaky alliance with other parties mostly representing the ethnic Malay majority since August 2021.

He said holding the election meant “the mandate was returned to the people” and that a democratic vote would help to establish a “strong, stable and respected” government.

Najib, and party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also on trial for corruption, remain influential within UMNO and Zahid had been pushing for elections to be brought forward.

Malaysia has had three prime ministers since the May 2018 elections, which brought the multi-ethnic Pakatan Harapan coalition to power with veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister. The coalition collapsed after a power grab in February 2020 and Muhyiddin Yassin was named prime minister. Amid persistent jostling for position, even as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, his government broke down in August last year, paving the way for Ismail Sabri to take the top job.

Political analysts said it was not clear that elections would resolve the instability.

Wong Chin Huat, an expert on Malaysian politics and elections at Sunway University, told Al Jazeera that Malaysia needed “to reduce the winner takes all feature of the political system” including the power of the prime minister to appoint the attorney general, the country’s chief prosecutor.

Wong noted too that since the budget had only been presented on Friday and had not been approved by parliament, it could be a danger to the incoming administration.

“This creates a risk that if the new government is not stable, the budget session may become a point to bring down the new government,” he said.

About 60 percent of the country’s population of 32 million is Malay, but it is also home to substantial numbers of ethnic Chinese and Indian people as well as Indigenous communities.

Some politicians have expressed concern about holding elections towards the end of the year when the monsoon takes place.

More than two dozen people died in flooding in December 2021 after days of heavy rain and thunderstorms, while thousands were forced from their homes as the waters rose as high as five metres.

The floods were the worst to hit the country since 2014.

Source: Al Jazeera