Malaysian PM Najib dissolves parliament ahead of election
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak dissolved parliament on Wednesday, calling a general election that will determine whether his ruling coalition extends its unbroken hold on power since independence in 1957.
- Published: 3/04/2013 at 03:46 PM
- Newspaper section: news
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks to dissolve parliament, paving the way for a long-anticipated general election, in this still image taken from video shot for a live television address, at the administrative capital Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur, April 3, 2013. (Reuters Photo)
Under Malaysian law the election must be held within 60 days of the dissolution of the legislature. The Election Commission will meet in a few days to announce a date for the poll, spokesman Sabri Said said in a text message to Bloomberg news agency.
Reuters news agency reported the election is expected on April 27, after only a two-week campaign period. There was no confirmation from other sources.
“The ultimate power of choosing the government lies in the people’s hands,” Mr Najib said in a televised address on Wednesday.
“Over the past five decades we have achieved stability and prosperity in this country. I hope we will continue this tradition."
The 13-party Barisan Nasional coalition, which won the 2008 national vote by its slimmest margin, faces a resurgent opposition alliance led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. The prospect of an even closer election result has helped make the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index one of the worst performing Asian benchmarks this year. The gauge fell as much as 3.1% Wednesday, the most since October 2011.
“We expect the Barisan Nasional coalition to have fewer seats in the aftermath of the 13th general election, but not enough to lose their majority,“ said Anand Pathmakanthan, head of Malaysia research at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets.
“If you talk to most investors, their best case scenario is that Najib stays as well because they can’t see what comes after.”
The KLCI index has gained 82% during Najib’s three years as leader as of Tuesday’s close, about three times less than benchmarks in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The index fell 1.2% to 1,664.33 as of 11:56 am local time Wednesday. The ringgit, Asia’s fifth-worst performing currency this year, was little changed.
Mr Najib said all government-controlled state assemblies were also dissolved. The ruling coalition lost control of five of the country's 13 states in the 2008 election to Mr Anwar’s People’s Alliance. The government later regained control of Perak state following defections.
Members of the Najib cabinet applauded him today when he arrived in Putrajaya, the administrative centre outside Kuala Lumpur, to chair a weekly meeting, state-run Bernama news agency reported. April 3 is the fourth anniversary of his tenure as prime minister.
Mr Najib, 59, leads the coalition to the polls for the first time. He came to power in 2009 after Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down as prime minister following the narrow election win a year earlier.
Mr Najib is more popular than his government, according to the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research. His approval rating slipped to 61% in February from 63% in December, according to survey of 1,021 voters conducted Jan 23 to Feb 6, 2013. By contrast, 48% of respondents said they were happy with the government.
Barisan Nasional has struggled to reverse perceptions of entrenched corruption and sufficiently address concerns over higher living costs, according to Ibrahim Suffian, a political analyst at the Merdeka Centre. More voters under 40 years of age are now accessing news reports online, he said, and the government narrative is not always dominant anymore.
The election commission said there are 13.3 million eligible voters. A total of 222 parliamentary seats and 505 state legislative positions will be contested.
Barisan Nasional held 137 seats in the last parliament, while Pakatan Rakyat and allies held 76 seats. Nine seats were held by independents.
Malaysia’s economy has expanded by more than 5% for each of the past six quarters through the end of 2012, buoyed by domestic demand and investment.
The prime minister is seeking to capitalise on goodwill from cash payments and other pre-election sweeteners announced in the government's 2012 and 2013 budgets.
He raised annual salaries of civil servants, including police and the armed forces, on March 12, an increased outlay of 1.5 billion ringgit ($483 million).
The government has also been distributing a second round of 500-ringgit cash handouts to low-income households among the nation’s 29 million people as the election draws near.
Malaysia has been in the election mood for the past two years, James Chin, professor of political science at the Malaysian campus of Australia's Monash University, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg Television’s Rishaad Salamat on Wednesday.
Mr Anwar, 65, leads an ideologically mixed and multi-ethnic opposition that includes one party with mostly ethnic Chinese and another whose members support the implementation of Islamic law. His alliance holds 75 parliamentary seats.
Mr Anwar spent six years in prison until 2004 on corruption and sodomy charges that he says were politically motivated. The sodomy charge was eventually overturned, and he was cleared of a second charge of having sex with a man in January 2012.
The opposition will win the election with a majority of more than 10 seats, Mr Anwar predicted in a March 8 interview in Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Anwar has pledged to revamp racial preferences for the ethnic Malays and indigenous people, and trim the budget deficit through cost savings if he wins power.
His coalition also wants to raise the minimum wage, lower oil and electricity prices, and increase cash handouts to the elderly and students.
About the author
- Writer: Agencies