Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has revived the general election guessing game when he said over the weekend there was "not much time left", indicating that GE-13 was just months away.
It is evidence of his growing clout that many pundits pricked up their ears when they heard his comments. In the past months, many UMNO leaders including Prime Minister Najib Razak have hinted of snap general elections. Najib even once said polls might just "be around the corner" but after mismanaging a slew of issues most Malaysians have given up on him.
Even then, there were two contrasting stories of power play at UMNO, the party that dominates the ruling BN coalition. One view was that Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor were "just warming their seats" and in no hurry at all to have snap polls. Instead it was Muhyiddin and former premier Mahathir Mohathir who wanted it early as Najib's incompetence was clear to them.
The other view was that it was Najib who wanted an early GE so that he could clinch his own mandate from the people, purge his foes and put in his own loyalists at UMNO. Leaders from various factions within the party slid in and out with ease with either theory, depending on which benefited them at that point in time.
But after the recent string of political upheavals, the most significant of which was the July 9 Bersih rally for free and fair elections, the smoke may be starting to clear.
"I think it is very significant that Muhyiddin is signalling for GE-13 to be held soon. It is not surprising given that Najib has done a poor job. You can look at it two ways, Muhyiddin wants to save the country before Najib destroys it completely or Najib is now so unpopular that it is perfect timing for Muhyiddin and Mahathir to pull another Badawi - this time on Najib," PKR vice president Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.
Najib to go through the same door as Badawi
Jui Meng, a former Health mninsiter, was referring to the 2008 general election, where 5th prime minister Abdullah Badawi was 'persuaded' not to defend the UMNO presidency after leading the BN to its worst electoral performance in the 2008 national polls.
After intense horse-trading spearheaded by Muhyddin who together with Mahathir had backed Najib for the UMNO presidency, which also carries the coveted prime minister's post, Badawi stepped down in favour of Najib, who was then his deputy.
Muhyiddin and Mahathir are expected to pull a similar coup against Najib at next year's UMNO general assembly, regardless of the GE-13 results. To be fair, it is highly unlikely that Najib can repair his personal popularity, and the image he has reinforced for the BN of being a mere shell for UMNO, in time to improve on the 2008 GE results regardeless whether GE-13 took place this year, 2012 or 2013.
"They believe they can still win the federal government even if not regain the two-thirds majority in Parliament. If they wait, the chances are high the cousins will fumble even more and lose the entire election to the Pakatan Rakyat. My hunch is the GE-13 is end of this year, during the long holidays," Bukit Gantang MP Nizar Jamaluddin told Malaysia Chronicle.
Nizar was referring to Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who together with Najib, had unleashed a series of crackdowns against the Bersih rally, ignoring at their own and BN's peril the enormous popularity Bersih enjoyed with the masses.
The Rosmah factor
Like Nizar, Jui Meng too reckons that GE-013 will be held after the Budget 2012, due to be unveiled on October 7. He said a shakeup at UMNO was inevitable and Rosmah was now the millstone around Najib's neck as Khairy Jamaluddin had been to Badawi. Khairy is the UMNO Youth chief and Badawi's son-in-law, who was much hated by the Mahathir faction for being 'greedy and grasping'.
Among recent events that both Jui Meng and Nizar cited as unfavourable for Najib was the Bersih fiasco, the way it continued to be mishandled after it was over, the enormous international scorn the cousins drew for their role in villianising the Bersih rally.
They also pointed to acts of 'sabotage' in the way certain 'scandals' were leaked to the press, including Rosmah's alleged purchase of a RM24.4 million diamond ring, the RM100 million New York super-luxury penthouse allegedly bought on the first couple's behalf by a well-known business associate of their son's Jho Low.
The Teoh Beng Hock Royal Commission of Inquiry findings was another death blow for the Najib campaign, they added. So too were the cracks in the economy that can no longer be hidden from the public eye as business growth slowed while prices of consumer essential rocketed.
Pre or post Budget
However, some believe there is still a chance that GE-13 can be held in September-October before the Budget presentation.
"For me, I do agree there is something cooking in the UMNO oven. But I think the chances are higher for a pre-budget election soon after Hari Raya Puasa. To have it post-Budget may be too close to Hari Raya Haji and after that is the wet season," PKR vice president Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.
"The pressure on the economy is also quite enormous and if they did the GE before the Budget 2012, then they can even include GST and other subsidy cuts rather wait until after the elections and rely on supplementary bills to get the additional allocations through."
- Malaysia Chronicle