Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday he had not ruled out an early election and that he needed no mandate at the polls to proceed with key reforms, like the introduction of a goods and services tax (GST).
Najib, whose National Front (BN) coalition suffered record losses to the opposition in 2008, has pledged to restore investor confidence in Malaysia by pursuing reforms, including introducing the twice-delayed tax.
In an interview in Australia, Najib said a good showing in a forthcoming election in the politically important state of Sarawak would help assess the public mood and perhaps provide a pointer towards calling an early general election before one is due in 2013.
The BN holds 63 of 71 state legislature seats.
“It’s a question of the assessment on the ground, how people are feeling towards the government, whether we can have a feel-good factor and people have confidence in the government and the position of the opposition,” he said.
“I would not rule out anything. It could be early or it could be later. I am still assessing the situation. Sarawak will be part of the assessment, certainly,” he said.
He referred to the BN’s wins in four out of five recent by-elections against the People’s Alliance opposition led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is beset by new charges of sodomy that have kept him in court.
Anwar has labeled the charge a repeat of accusations that led to his ouster as deputy prime minister in 1998 and six years in jail.
“So far it looks good. So far the reports on the ground are quite encouraging, but we cannot take the threat lightly that the opposition will be more determined this time to try to make inroads in Sarawak,” Najib said.
“These are all building blocks toward a general sense of confidence heading towards the next general election, but I am also mindful of the fact that by-elections and state elections are not everything in terms of the final outcome with respect to a general election,” he said.
Despite his pledges, Najib has postponed the implementation of the GST, slowed down a rollback of fuel subsidies and softened his stance on a controversial affirmative action policy for the country’s majority ethnic Malays, wary of upsetting voters.
Analysts say Najib may be willing to push through reforms such as the GST if he obtains a strong mandate in the general election, which is not due until 2013, but which could be held as early as late this year on the back of economic growth following a contraction of 1.7 percent in 2009.
Najib, however, said the GST would not require a general election mandate. He said he believed the GST, aimed at widening Malaysia’s narrow tax base, could be introduced “slightly later” than this year, but no time had been set.
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