KUALA LUMPUR, May 31 — With Malaysia facing rising inflation, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has indicated that he is in no rush to call for a general election anytime soon, contrary to speculation that polls may be held before the year ends.
He told Nikkei Asia in an interview published today that rising costs in food and other living expenses were among the reasons to push back the elections, which only need to be called by September next year.
“We will have to wait for the right time [to call for elections]. We are facing a period of increasing inflation with high prices... Do you think this is the right time?” he told the Japanese financial paper, the largest in the world with a daily circulation surpassing three million.
According to the report, the prime minister has been under pressure by many, including members of his own party Umno, to call for an early election.
“The election cannot be delayed further than the timeline set in the constitution, but to make it earlier, we have to look at the current situation.
“God willing, I'll make the move at the right time,” he was quoted saying.
Ismail Sabri alluded to the Russia-Ukraine war driving up the Consumer Price Index to 2.2 per cent in March this year, according to Malaysia's Statistics Department, mostly due to increasing food costs.
In the interview with Nikkei, the Umno vice-president also indicated that he is keen to bring back consumption tax to expand the government's revenue and ease the strain on public subsidies.
Malaysia's controversial 6 per cent goods and services tax (GST) was introduced in 2016 by the Najib administration, but replaced with the sales and services tax the Pakatan Harapan coalition took federal power after winning Election 2018.
Aware of the negative public perceptions of the GST, Ismail Sabri told the Nikkei Asia that there aren't many options for increasing revenue.
He said that RM20 billion was lost in annual revenue when the GST was abolished and replaced with the SST.
“No country in the world has reverted back from GST to SST, except for Malaysia,” he was quoted saying.
He added that the government would come up with ways to educate the public to accept the reinstitution of GST and transparent tax collection.
He also stressed that his administration is working on a targeted subsidy rationalisation program for low- to middle-income households and will submit the plan to the Cabinet in due time.
Nikkei Asia reported that Malaysia's central bank is supportive of the move to reintroduce the GST as it will heavily relieve the government's financial burden.
The paper added that a prolonged European war could push up prices of fuel and imported food items further, squeezing the government's finances dry.
According to Nikkei, the government's total fuel subsidy bill is expected to be RM28 billion this year, spike from last year's RM11 billion.