Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Malaysia’s prime minister dissolved parliament on Monday to clear the way for snap elections in a bid to restore political stability as the country emerges from the ravages of COVID-19 and a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal.
Elections could be held within weeks following Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s announcement.
Polls were not due until September next year but Ismail faced intense pressure from within his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party to dissolve parliament and secure a strong mandate in early elections.
It held a slim majority in the just-dissolved parliament.
“Yesterday I met the king … and I sought his permission to dissolve the parliament. And the king agreed to my request to dissolve parliament today,” Ismail said in a televised address to the nation following his audience with Sultan Abdullah.
“I hope the people will use their votes wisely to vote for stability, economic growth and harmony in the country,” he said, referring to the mainly Muslim but multi-racial Southeast Asian nation.
No date has been given for the election, but under the constitution polls must be held within 60 days following the dissolution of parliament.
The dissolution came days after the government unveiled a populist budget that included a few billion dollars worth of cash handouts and a cut in personal income taxes.
Malaysia has been in political turmoil since the last national elections in 2018 when a reformist pact steered by ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad overwhelmingly defeated an alliance led by UMNO, the main party that ruled the country for more than 60 years.
Then incumbent Najib Razak, who was embroiled in a scandal where billions of dollars were alleged to have been looted from the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, was ousted as prime minister.
He was later convicted of corruption following a lengthy trial and started serving a 12-year jail term in August for the initial batch of charges. He faces more charges that could put him in jail longer.
Hopes for stability after Najib’s ouster faded quickly, however, as Mahathir’s government collapsed after 22 months due to bitter infighting.
He was succeeded by his former right-hand man Muhyiddin Yassin, but growing public anger over his handling of the pandemic forced him to resign less than two years after he took office, and Ismail was named Malaysia’s new leader.
Ismail’s rule has been relatively peaceful after he signed a truce with the country’s opposition to allow the government to focus on recovery after the worst of the pandemic.
Analysts said the elections will hopefully give the next government a stronger mandate to shepherd the country over a five-year term.
“The significance of this polls is that this is the first general elections since COVID-19, so it’s very much an election to select a government to steer Malaysia back to political stability,” James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania, told AFP.
“People are looking for political stability. People are just sick and tired of the three governments Malaysia had since 2018. And people realise that for the government or for the country to move forward, you need political stability.”