Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak signaled his party has recovered from its 2008 election setback and said the ruling coalition will be aiming to restore its two-thirds parliamentary majority when elections are held soon.
“We will be going to the battlefield not too long from now,” said Najib, speaking at the close of the United Malays National Organisation’s annual assembly in Kuala Lumpur at the weekend. “We will have to fight the war and that means we must make sure our team is strong and united.”
The prime minister must dissolve parliament for new polls by April 28. In the last election in 2008, the opposition alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim, secured enough seats to deny the governing National Front coalition a two-thirds majority which it had held for four decades. The opposition won five out of 13 states, though it has since lost one after several lawmakers defected to become independents.
Najib, 59, cut income taxes, boosted pay for government workers and extended handouts for the poor in his 2013 budget announced in September. While the global economy has slowed, Malaysia has maintained gross domestic product growth above 5 percent for the past five quarters and its benchmark stock index closed at a record last month.
“Najib’s tone is more confident because the general assembly is a setting where you’ll have to rally the troops before the election,” said Ong Kian Ming, a political analyst at UCSI University in Kuala Lumpur, who recently joined the opposition Democratic Action Party. “There’s no actual political reason for him to be more confident.”
Najib’s party, which backs policies favoring Malays, has sought to boost its appeal among ethnic Chinese and Indian voters who have shifted their support to opposition parties in recent years.
The National Front has revised its election target and is now aiming to regain its two-thirds majority, the Star newspaper reported yesterday, citing Najib. The prime minister told journalists in March that winning a clear majority would be “challenging.”
The National Front coalition, known locally as Barisan Nasional, controls 137 seats in Malaysia’s 222-member parliament, with Najib’s UMNO its biggest component. Anwar Ibrahim’s three-party opposition known as the People’s Alliance holds 75 seats.
Najib, UMNO’s president, started an economic transformation program two years ago which has so far attracted 212 billion ringgit ($70 billion) of investment commitments, according to the government’s Performance Management and Development Unit, or Pemandu. This includes a mass railway in Kuala Lumpur and oil storage and petrochemicals hub in southern state of Johor.
The initiative, aimed at drawing $444 billion of private sector-led investments by 2020, is intended to help the Southeast Asian country fulfill its long-term goal of achieving developed nation status by the end of this decade. This should continue irrespective of who wins the next election, said Idris Jala, Pemandu’s chief executive officer.
“There was overwhelming response from the public that these are good things for the country,” Jala, also a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said in a Nov. 29 interview. “Whether the new government remains the Barisan Nasional or is new, I believe both of them will favorably look at the economic transformation program.”
Najib’s approval rating fell one percentage point to 64 percent in June from a month earlier, according to a survey by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research. The poll, the latest available, showed 66 percent of Chinese and 47 percent of Indians dissatisfied or angry with the government’s performance.
The support shown by party members at this week’s UMNO assembly indicates that it has recovered from the last general election, Bernama reported Nov. 28, citing the prime minister.
Najib’s party and the ruling coalition have faced several corruption scandals that have tainted its image over the past year. Malaysia ranked 60th out of 183 nations last year in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, four places lower than in 2010, when 178 countries were included.
Chong Pooi Koon in Kuala Lumpur at +60-3-2302-7854 or email@example.com