Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob must prove his leadership qualities by going against the wishes of his party, Umno.
That is the opinion of Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk, who says Ismail Sabri must put the nation’s needs above Umno’s wish of dissolving Parliament as soon as possible.
This comes following talks that Ismail Sabri will meet with the Yang diPertuan Agong on Thursday, a day before Budget 2023 is tabled, and may possibly advice the King to dissolve Parliament early next week.
“A leader must lead, regardless of pressure from his party, or otherwise. Ismail Sabri must show he has the qualities to lead,” said Azeem, director of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Policy Research and International Studies.
“If he follows the dictates of his party, Ismail Sabri will be punished by the voters. That is why I doubt he will dissolve Parliament any time soon.
“He must table the budget this Friday and get Parliament to approve it as quickly as possible. That way, voters will know where they stand.
“A ‘good’ budget may convince voters to vote for him, and he will be in a much stronger position.”
Azeem said that on the off-chance Parliament is dissolved before the budget is approved, it would have to be re-tabled by the new government.
As such, whatever ‘goodies’ promised in the budget will become invalid, and the people will suffer the most.
He also dismissed the possibility of the budget being used as an election ploy, as there is no guarantee the current government would return to power.
“Although there is a precedent of Parliament being dissolved before the budget is approved, times have changed. Before 2018, Barisan Nasional (BN) and Umno had a strong grip on Parliament,” said Azeem.
The 1990 general election was held in October, with the 1991 Budget tabled on Dec 14, 1990, by then Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin.
“BN and Umno then had known that they would remain in power after the general election. Now, we have a coalition government made up of several parties. There is no guarantee that the current government will return to power.
“The country is in a precarious position. There are many unresolved issues, and the economy is not in the best shape. It’s best to get the budget approved before talking about an election.”
Azeem said Umno is desperate to hold elections as it believes there will be a low voter turnout due to the monsoon season. In 1999, Malaysians headed to the ballot boxes in November.
He said Umno believes that low voter turnout – as had happened in the Melaka and Johor by-elections – would help the party win more seats.
“But that is Umno’s assumption. I strongly believe no one party will have a strong majority of seats, regardless of whether we have a low, or high turnout,” said Azeem.
“There are movements on social media to help voters get to the polling stations if elections are held soon. That happened in 2018, which turned out to be bad for Umno,” said Azeem.
“Umno has to be careful with what it wishes for, as the people will not allow it to come back to power without a fight.”
Separately, Azeem has called for a reform in Malaysian politics by having a fixed Parliamentary term. Currently, elections in Malaysia are on a five-year cycle, but the sitting government can opt for an early election.
He said a fixed term would ensure that there would be “no guessing games” regarding the dates of the general election.
“It (fixed parliamentary term) is almost a universal practice in mature democracies. It eliminates the guessing game and allows the government and opposition time to prepare for an election,” said Azeem.
“Dewan Rakyat Speaker (Tan Sri Azhar Harun), a former head of the Election Commission, is also a supporter of a fixed parliamentary term.
“This way, the EC would not have to make last-minute plans to train polling agents and other staff, and book venues for the polling stations,” he added.