KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8 — Umno would further lose popularity if it were to trigger a premature 15th general election during the Covid-19 pandemic, said political analysts.

Senior researcher at the O2 Malaysia think-tank, Anis Anwar Suhaimi, told Malay Mail Umno appeared to be pre-empting the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines in Malaysia and taking advantage of unfavourable views on the Perikatan Nasional government.

However, he said Malaysians have already been made aware that the Umno push was based on its dissatisfaction with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) on issues such as government positions and the continued criminal prosecutions of Umno leaders.

"Therefore, Umno's popularity will continue to dwindle among voters, while PN (Perikatan Nasional) will continue to be favourable. Still, Umno's chances in the election are far from over if they are directly fighting PH due to voters' clear segmentation," he said.

An O2 Malaysia survey last year found 63.5 per cent of respondents in favour of PN remaining the government of the day, with nearly three in four Barisan Nasional supporters also holding this view.

Anis said voters could also respond to a premature general election by snubbing the poll in protest, which would add further uncertainty to Umno’s chances of regaining power, citing elections in Spain, Austria, France and Taiwan where turnouts were as low as 30 per cent.

"We can describe this as a double-edged sword for Umno-BN as the largest party, having a comparative advantage for grassroots members but could prove detrimental," he added.

Geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan also predicted a backlash for Umno, which he said could negate the party’s advantage over Bersatu.

As Umno appeared keen to contest the election without Bersatu and with PAS increasingly seen as moving away from the Malay nationalist party, he said this meant Umno’s chances of victory in such an election would be slim.

Umno’s desire for a premature general election appeared to be motivated by the party’s grassroots sentiments rather than that of Malaysians in general, and Azmi said this could create a disconnect with voters.

"It doesn't look good for the party since the people will perceive that Umno only prioritises its own political agenda without giving much thought on people's welfare," Azmi said.

When asked if the third Covid-19 infection wave linked to the unforced Sabah state election last year should be a warning to politicians, Azmi said the group should know by now to avoid an unnecessary election within a pandemic.

Universiti Sains Malaysia's (USM) political sociologist Prof Sivamurugan Pandian said pushing for a premature general election would leave Umno vulnerable to accusations of endangering public health and could also lead to rifts within the party.

Jayum Jawan, professor of politics and government at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), disagreed that forcing a general election in the current climate would hurt Umno’s popularity severely, pointing out that the country was already headed towards a scheduled state election this year.

"Presently, the situation is complicated by the threat of Covid-19, but this present threat may not go away soon.

“We have Sarawak that is due to have its [state] election, latest by June 2021. So, because of Covid-19, do we postpone it?” he said.

Jayum said the onus was on the Election Commission to devise ways to safely conduct elections alongside Covid-19, arguing that there was still no clear end in sight for the pandemic and that society must go on.

On Sunday, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the party was eager to see an early general election despite the ongoing pandemic, before pointing out that over 30 countries have held their own polls with the presence of Covid-19.

Umno is posturing up to contest the next general election without Bersatu and will decide the matter during its annual assembly on January 31.

Umno and Bersatu allied informally with other parties to form the Perikatan Nasional government.