Najib’s big dilemma: When to call the polls?


By Bridget Welsh
Sep 5, 2012 | Malaysiakini

Pundits continue to speculate on the election timing, with views ranging from Prime Minister Najib Razak making a surprise announcement to speculation that he will go the full term.

One thing is certain: The polls have to be held before the end of June next year. The person who appears most reluctant to hold the polls is Najib himself. He is now Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister without his own electoral mandate.

The pressure to call the polls and deliver a comfortable majority remains intense. Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was forced to resign when he failed to win two-thirds of the parliamentary seats in the 2008 GE.

Based on fieldwork and polling, of the 222 seats up for grabs, 84 percent of them are “competitive” – and with the BN and the opposition having about the same number of “safe seats”.

It is thus not surprising that Najib has repeatedly delayed facing the electorate. Multiple windows for the GE have been by-passed. Instead, Najib has worked diligently to earn popular support with the aim of tying his personal popularity to a victory for his ruling coalition.

Diminishing returns

His clock is ticking, as there is less than a year left before the GE will have to be called. The longer Najib waits, the more uncertainty he faces, with the real prospect of diminishing electoral returns.

Part of this is a product of the hype surrounding the earlier windows to hold the election. By failing to call the polls on repeated occasions after the election machinery was ramped up and candidate lists forwarded, Najib fuels a possible perception of weakness, as the delays are read as a lack of confidence on his part.

Najib also opens himself up to further uncertainties. Each time the election has been put off, it has either been in the wake of a scandal revelation – such as the National Feedlot Corporation – or after a mass rally such as those involving the electoral reform movement Bersih.

A pattern has set in – where weaknesses in Najib’s political reform efforts have been showcased, only to lead to further efforts to reconsolidate support.

The question Malaysians are asking is what will come next. Most are saturated with stories of scandal and intrigue, but ultimately the longer the delay, the greater the possibility of further revelations and civil society mobilisation.

This was the pattern in 2007-2008 and it is already repeating itself, as illustrated by the recent protest against the controversial amendments to section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950. The changes presume that a person is guilty for anything written on their websites and social media mediums.

Uncertain economy

The most serious unknowns Najib faces with his delaying tactics involve the economy.

Malaysia has performed well in terms of growth under his watch – an average of 5.8 percent growth in the three years. Yet the economy is closely tied to global trends.

Slowing growth in China, recession threats in Europe and a lacklustre economic recovery in the United States, cast real shadows on Najib’s political fortunes.

A slowdown is already evident, with second-quarter growth figures dropping to 5.4 percent.

Najib’s government has also been unable to stave off the impact of global inflation. In the first six months of this year, stealthily but steadily prices for fuel have risen, with a 10-sen rise in the month before Hari Raya Puasa alone.

The attention to the economy calls into question Najib’s main strategy of using financial handouts to win support. Billions of ringgit have been doled out to constituents in a variety of forms, from vouchers to disadvantaged families to salary bonuses. More are expected in the upcoming Budget this month, the second year in a row the Budget will have been used as an apparent election primer.

While the influx of public sector cash in the economy has boosted consumption, little attention has centred on the long-term implications of short-term allocations and deficit spending.

Clock ticking away

In the midst of the myopic election focus, Najib’s efforts have stirred infighting within his own party, Umno.

Candidate hopefuls have been jockeying intensely, and this has intensified after the lists were forwarded this year. Positioning for candidacy has dominated attention, reinforcing the pressures on Najib to call the polls according to when different actors believe is “best”.

The longer the infighting goes on, the greater the political bruising will be within Umno.

Personally, economically and politically, Najib is caught in a political quagmire.

When he goes to the polls, he will face a fierce contest. And he will face real challenges to his position within Umno.

If he delays, conditions will reinforce a process of diminishing returns. The choice to delay has only served to heighten the pressure to perform.

As the countdown to the GE continues, Najib’s clock is ticking louder than ever. The next window ahead is early November and time will tell whether he will use this window to face the electorate.

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  1. #1 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 10:49 am

    Cintanegara, ’bout time u throw jib a couple of rambutans from your rambutan tree. Orgy too long orso not good. Shiok feeling oredi gone. Now like no more feeling. Dah numb lah. Kelihatan cam zombie nanti – over-shiok.

  2. #2 by Godfather on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 11:45 am

    Posters of “Muhyiddin for PM” are surfacing in Johor, and they are now desperately trying to figure out who’s responsible. The fact is if you go to Pagoh in Johor, you will find posters of Muhyiddin and his wife literally everywhere in that constituency, and ZERO poster of Najib. Muhyiddin’s people are also insisting that in constituencies where MCA have lost to the Opposition, MCA must yield these to UMNO.

    Meanwhile in Selangor, Khir Toyo’s boys are fighting against Noh Omar’s boys. In Kedah, the locals don’t want Mukhriz, but Mamakthir is trying to force his son into the reckoning. In Trengganu, Mat Said’s boys are fighting with Idris Jusoh’s boys. In Sabah, Shafie Apdal and Musa Aman’s people are trying to leak as much damaging information on each camp to the public…..

    Now you know why Najib has no guts to call for elections.

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 11:50 am

    Najib is already a loser whether he calls an early election or a late election.

  4. #4 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 12:48 pm

    And i could still recall the star paper reported (when jib first took office), “jib hits the ground running.” Isnt it obvious now? Jib hit the ground, tripped and fell. He had a bloody nose and broken limbs. And of course, cintanegara was full of praise for jib, then. “My hero, muah muah muah.” “Muah lagi” cintanegara. Yeah, muah lagi! Way to go, bro.

    If election is not called soon we could well witness a meltdown of umno. In which case victory for pakatan could turn into a “win by default” situation. Of course if election is called today, umno would be badly bashed, if not defeated. I suspect, defeat, is the more likely scenario. A badly bashed up umno would of course experience a meltdown sooner and faster than if election was called later. So either case, “habis lu, umno”.

    JJ1B
    RR1C!

  5. #5 by Bunch of Suckers on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 3:16 pm

    The leaders of BN suckers are waiting for the right times by building up and enhancing lying machinery and ways to cheat first! !!

    The coming election would the damn dirtiest election in Bolehland history!!!

  6. #6 by dcasey on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 3:25 pm

    If I have to draw an analogy, I would say Najib is like a little school boy waiting for the right timing to hand in his report card to his parents for signing. Each time when he was about to hand it in, his father would burst into a rage and he would immediately retreat and vow to try again next day. I can’t imagine how many report cards he has unsigned till the day he left school. I guess that’s probably why he is the man that he is today.

  7. #7 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 4:04 pm

    Najib knows he is going to lose so enjoy till the end. Then retire in comfort.

    Anyway, the election date is dependent on Rosmah. She’s not done traveling the world yet as FLOM. Don’t ignore her.

  8. #8 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 4:34 pm

    There appears to be some controversy about a picture showing massive crowds of supporters at Najib’s Raya Open House. Some Opposition MPs have claimed it is a doctored picture. I was there with my colleagues from the UK and tend to agree that that photo does not look like it was a Raya crowd at the PM’s house but of some other function or maybe it was ‘manipulated’.

    But Bernama says it is authentic. If so, can they and the photographer show us the actual photos he took on that day to prove their authenticity?

    Otherwise Bernama is publishing fake photos and reporting fake news. This will affect its credibility locally and globally. This is a very serious matter of national importance. Goes against good governance in the news profession not to mention it is unethical to do so.

    With the GE just around the corner, the news agency must be fair in its reports which will be carried by all newspapers and the media. The public must not be deceived, especially by the national news agency.

  9. #9 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 6 September 2012 - 4:37 pm

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Amended version.

    There appears to be some controversy about a picture showing mas.ive crowds of supporters at Najib’s Raya Open House. Some Opposition MPs have claimed it is a doctored picture. I was there with my colleagues from the UK and tend to agree that that photo does not look like it was a Raya crowd at the PM’s house but of some other function or maybe it was ‘manipulated’ or a combination of photos of a few other functions.

    But Bernama says it is authentic. If so, can they and the photographer show us the actual photos he took on that day to prove their authenticity?

    Otherwise Bernama is guilty of publishing fake photos and reporting fake news. This will affect its credibility locally and globally. This is a very serious matter of national importance. Goes against good governance in the news profession not to mention it is unethical to do so.

    With the GE just around the corner, the news agency must be fair in its reports which will be carried by all newspapers and the media. The public must not be deceived, especially by the national news agency.

  10. #10 by raven77 on Saturday, 8 September 2012 - 9:02 am

    Najib is not a team player…he went for personal popularity..UMNO fellas will make him pay by letting the PR win..its a foregone conclusion…

  11. #11 by PoliticoKat on Saturday, 8 September 2012 - 9:06 am

    Given how wishy washy Najib has been, my guess is Najib will call election immediately after the 2013 budget.

    He will throw lots of money the civil service, and the arm forces, reduce taxes and perhaps have a lot more IPO. Also at that time the BN government will flushed with cash (from 2012 taxes) and will spend it on the election campaign.

    If Pakatan wins, they will find that they have no money to operate the nation. BN wins by pointing out how badly PK has mismanaged the nation.

    If BN wins, the nation go further into debt. We will probably be borrowing money from china.

    The only downside is that the global economy may not hold stable for long enough. People are jittery of a second recession. And from EU, it doesn’t look good.

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