Wed, Apr 03, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Najib increases handouts as election looms

Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday announced bonuses for the 40,000 employees of national oil firm Petronas, signaling a long wait for a general election is nearly over as he seeks last-minute support from the middle class.

In recent days, Najib has expanded a slew of handouts to include thousands of workers at state-linked firms, underlining the government’s ability to try to win support through its close control of Malaysia’s biggest companies.

Najib, whose ruling National Front coalition could face the closest election battle in its 56-year rule, must call the polls by the end of this month or parliament will automatically dissolve for the first time in the nation’s history.

At a town hall-style meeting with Petronas staff in Kuala Lumpur, Najib said they would each get 1,000 ringgit (US$320) bonuses for “contributing to nation-building.”

Media predicted he would dissolve parliament today. The New Straits Times reported that ministers had been ordered to wear a suit and tie for today’s regular Cabinet meeting for an official photograph. Today marks exactly four years since Najib took power after the coalition’s worst-ever election result.

Najib appeared to be getting ready for battle as he told the Petronas staff, who make up a part of Malaysia’s urban middle class that has swung to the opposition in recent elections, to keep the government in power, company officials said.

“He told us that we had to vote wisely or Petronas, which has always been independent under the current government, will lose its independence if the opposition came into power,” a Petronas employee who attended the meeting said.

The board of Petronas answers only to Najib, who approved the one-off bonuses amounting to 40 million ringgit.

If Najib dissolves parliament today, it would signal an election by at the end of the month or early next month, raising doubt over his participation in an ASEAN summit in Brunei on April 24 and 25.

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