KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 — Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) are ready for a general election (GE) to be held this year after talks of a Cabinet reshuffle to consolidate Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s position fizzled out, according to coalition sources.
The sources, who wished to remain anonymous, told Malay Mail the BN Convention held earlier this week showed that the component parties are prepared for an election campaign with the ultimate goal of regaining a parliamentary supermajority.
“Right now, the consensus of the top leadership of the party is that GE15 should be held sooner rather than next year.
“As Datuk Seri Najib [Razak] said, there would be dire consequences if we delay the GE15 as other parties will have time to strengthen themselves,” said one of the sources, referring to the former Umno president’s speech at the event.
Disgraced former prime minister Najib, in his speech as the BN advisory board chairman, highlighted the potential risks of delaying the election, warning that it could lead to another loss for the coalition that was voted out in 2018.
Ismail Sabri has indicated a reluctance to call for an early general election, saying the current economic condition in Malaysia meant it was a poor time to hold a general election.
He told Nikkei Asia in an interview published earlier week that rising costs in food and other living expenses were among the reasons to push back the election, which only need to be called by September next year.
At the BN convention, Najib also said Umno's top five leaders should help Ismail Sabri to make the right decision on when the GE15 should be called.
“Right now, Ismail Sabri is beholden to the party and BN which very well want the election to be held soon,” another source told Malay Mail.
The “Umno top five” include president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, his deputy Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, and vice-presidents Ismail Sabri himself, Datuk Mahdzir Khalid and Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin.
Zahid in his speech roused thousands of the delegates present when he asked whether they are ready for the general election to be called soon. Most of the crowd in the World Trade Centre stood up and roared their approval.
Among those who have publicly opposed such a move include Communications and Multimedia Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who said that public health needs to be factored in before deciding on the matter, and Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz who lambasted those who supported the idea as “selfish“.
Ismail Sabri also clarified in the BN event that he will not reshuffle his Cabinet, following rumours triggered by Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin’s announcement she was resigning as plantation industries and commodities minister.
Instead, Ismail Sabri said he will meet Zuraida to discuss the matter before making a decision.
Yesterday, Zuraida said her leaving the position in the Cabinet is still not set in stone.
Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has since laid claim to Zuraida’s opening in the Cabinet, saying it belonged to his party for its support of Ismail Sabri’s government.
His deputy Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu also reportedly denied any move to propel the party’s secretary-general Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin into the position of deputy prime minister.
Previously, sources told Malay Mail that Zuraida pre-emptively resigned as she would have been excluded from the “new line-up” of the Cabinet.
Another source countered that Zuraida will likely still be retained as Umno did not want a new Bersatu member to be given ministerial position, especially when the relationship was strained after both clashed in the three state elections held in the past one year.
“Zuraida is now with PBM, and PBM wants to join BN or be friendly with BN and not with Bersatu who opposes BN,” said the source, referring to fledgling Parti Bangsa Malaysia which Zuraida just joined.
Last month, an Umno extraordinary general meeting approved amendments to the party constitution to allow internal polls to be delayed until six months after a general election in years these coincide. It is hoping the Registrar of Societies will accept this, or the party will be dissolved in December this year.
Ahmad Zahid had insisted that the move is meant to stabilise Umno and prepare the current leadership line-up for the next general election, rather than a purported plan to save himself from being ousted as Umno president should an internal election is called.