(Kajang, Thursday): The next general elections is not far away. Two weeks ago, most political observers were expecting the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to call for general elections some time between October to December this year, which means I would win the 10-sen wager with Mahathir as to whether general elections would be held this year . I had in fact publicly said that I would not be surprised if general elections are held in October this year.
After the shocking and unprecedented sacking of Anwar Ibrahim as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, as well as his removal as UMNO Deputy President following his sacking as an UMNO member, many of these political observers are of the view that general elections is unlikely to be held this year.
I do not agree. I believe that there is a possibility that the case for snap general elections has been reinforced rather than weakened by the Anwar sackings.
Mahathir might have thought that he had learnt a lesson from the previous UMNO crisis when he was challenged by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah a decade ago and had conducted a neat and surgical operation against Anwar when sacking him as DPM and Finance Minister. This was why there was one great difference between the two political crisis. Eleven years ago, Razaleigh had a substantial portion of the UMNO political leadership, including Cabinet Ministers, former Cabinet Ministers as well as State government leaders and former Mentri-Mentri Besar on his side. But there is not a single UMNO Cabinet Minister or Mentri Besar who is standing up by Anwar.
However, there is another big difference between the Razaleigh and the Anwar challenge to Mahathir. In Razaleigh’s case, it was generally regarded as a power tussle between two UMNO factions, known as A team and B team, and did not have a great bearing on the people outside UMNO. This is the other difference in Anwar’s case, because it is regarded by the people outside UMNO as a generational conflict as well as a battle between the hopes of a new generation for greater democracy, accountability, transparency and integrity against the long-standing policy of autocracy, repression and cronyism.
This is why there is the phenomenon of Damansara Heights, where every night thousands of people of different races and socio-economic groups gather in a political efferverscence to hear Anwar Ibrahim’s message of political reformation, calling on Malaysians to stand up for justice and to oppose corruption and cronyism.
Of course, the question is whether the Anwar phenomenon is confined to Damansara Heights or is a nation-wide phenomenon.
I have been informed by Sdr. Fan Yew Teng, the Co-ordinator of
the 18-day "Free Guan Eng" Marathon Fast that Anwar Ibrahim had today sent
a message of sympathy and support for the Marathon Fast, where he said:
"Kedua saya menyokong usaha saudara bersama rakan-rakan yang lain yang berjuang untuk mendapatkan keadilan untuk saudara Lim. Apa yang berlaku pada Sdr. Lim merupakan satu lagi bukti jelas bahawa negara kita memerlukan reformasi."
I thank Anwar for his message of sympathy and support for Guan Eng and the Marathon Fast.
Mahathir has to take into account the impact of Anwar on the young generation of Malaysians outside UMNO, and this may be one factor inducing Mahathir to have early general elections.
The new capital control measures, releasing liquidity into the financial system, may only have very short-term effect to kickstart the economy, as illustrated by the very volatile performance of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange in the past week.
The Malaysian mass media, for instance, has failed to report today that Malaysia's credit rating was cut to below investment grade, or junk status, by Fitch IBCA because of its concern that the country's capital controls imposed last week could cut off investments in the country.
Fitch IBCA downgraded Malaysia's long-term foreign currency rating two notches to "BB", below investment grade, from "BBB". The short-term foreign currency rating was also cut to junk status of "B" from "F3".
Fitch IBCA said: "The recent imposition of exchange controls has seriously undermined foreign investors' confidence in Malaysia and set the economy on an unsustainable policy path that could adversely affect external creditworthiness over the medium term".
Fitch IBCA's cut will make it more expensive for Malaysia and its companies to raise funds internationally, as investors will demand more in return for taking on the additional risk that comes with a rating cut. Some investors are also barred from investing in countries with a rating below investment grade.
Fitch IBCA said that while the exchange controls do not hurt Malaysia's ability to repay its debts, it could deter new investments in the country. International investors may refrain from channelling funds into Malaysia as it had "arbitrarily changed the rules".
This is clearly one reason why general elections could be a snap one after the Commonwealth Games on Sept. 21.
There are those who rule out the possibility of general elections in October/November on the ground that there was no window to hold the polls as the 1999 budget had to be introduced in the third week of October while the 1998 Asia-Pacific Summit which Malaysia is hosting this year would be held in the third week of November.
This view is mistaken, for there is a window before the Asia-Pacific Summit in Kuala Lumpur in the third week of November to hold general elections. i.e. between the end of Sukom and the APEC Summit.
The year-end budget is not an obstacle to the holding of general elections in October, as the budget for next year could be pushed to December, as had happened in 1990.
In three of the four general elections conducted by Mahathir during
his Prime Ministership for the past 17 years, the general elections was
completed between 15 to 19 days from dissolution of Parliament to polling,
as shown by the following table:
1982 29.3.82 7.4.82 22.4.82 24 days
1986 19.7.86 24.7.86 3.8.86 15 days
1990 4.10.90 11.10.90 21.10.90 17 days
1995 6.4.95 15.4.95 25.4.95 19 days
This means that general elections could be held either on October 15 or 22.
Regardless of when the next general election is held, the restoration of justice must high on the agenda of issues in the next polls - whether justice for Guan Eng, justice for Irene Fernandez or justice for Anwar Ibrahim.