Malaysia's Parliament to be dissolved on April 7, paving way for all-out election battle
[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's Parliament will be dissolved on Saturday, paving the way for a heated election which both the government and opposition have painted as a "do-or-die" battle.
The Election Commission will now decide the date for the polls, which has to be held within 60 days of the dissolution. But with the Muslim fasting month beginning in mid-May, expectations are that 15 million Malaysians will go to the ballot box in early May.
Prime Minister Najib Razak was given an audience by the King on Friday morning ahead of a Cabinet meeting, reported The Star, before making the announcement live on national television at 12.15pm.
The momentum towards an election accelerated this past week, as the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) fast-tracked key motions through Parliament - covering redrawn electoral boundaries and fake news - and announced a raft of handouts to crucial votebanks like the country's 1.6 million civil servants.
The authorities also suspended the party of former premier-turned-opposition chief Mahathir Mohamad, while jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim has been denied access to his lawyer.
Tun Mahathir's entry into the opposition sees an alliance of once bitter foes who insist that a continued Najib administration will wreck the nation's finances and institutions.
"If he wins, he will be very strong. So this is our last opportunity to unseat him. If we lose this, there is no future. He will die (one day), but the legacy that he leaves behind will kill all the prime ministers who follow. They cannot solve this," Dr Mahathir, who was premier for 22 years until 2003, told The Straits Times in a recent interview.
In the other corner of the ring, the BN component parties had earlier said that a poor performance in this election could spell the end for their parties. BN had lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary supermajority in the 2008 election, and then the popular vote for the first time in the 2013 election.
At the last Umno annual congress in December, Datuk Seri Najib described this national polls as "the father of all elections".
"If the nation falls to the wrong and irresponsible party, everything that we and our fathers have built tirelessly will crash and be destroyed before our own eyes," he said.
Although recent opinion polls show the government's popularity is waning, analysts still believe that Dr Mahathir's Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact faces an uphill battle.
This is due to expected multi-cornered fights, as the pact's former ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has chosen to contest independently in at least 130 of the 222 parliamentary wards. They are expected to pull away crucial Malay support from PH.
Support from the Malays, the country's dominant ethnic community, has been crucial to Mr Najib's grip on power.
In 2013, the once-dominant BN garnered just 47 per cent of votes against the opposition's 51 per cent, but still secured a comfortable majority of Parliamentary seats thanks to electoral boundaries which favour rural-based Malays.
More than 60 per cent of Malays backed BN then, giving it 133 of the 222 wards in Parliament and leaving the opposition with 89 seats, a distant 23 seats away from federal power.
THE STRAITS TIMES