Hornbill Unleashed

November 10, 2009

When will the 13th General Election be?

By Kenny Gan

pakatan-rakyat-stateEver since the epic 12th general elections, which saw a realignment of the political landscape, the average Malaysian,  normally apathetic to politics due to the boring regularity of BN’s sweeping victories, have started to take an interest in elections, especially the next general election.

Pakatan Rakyat supporters who can’t wait to see BN swept out of power are notably impatient for the next general election, even though the last one was held a mere 20 months ago. As general elections are held every 5 years, the next one is not due until March 2013.

However it is the usual practice for the incumbent government to hold elections earlier, rather than wait until its term expires. This allows it to choose an opportune time, such as a booming economy, when its support may be higher. To wait until the last months deprives it of the freedom to choose a favourable timing or the ability to wait for scandals to cool, if any should pop up unexpectedly.

Another reason for holding early elections may be to clear the way to institute an unpopular policy which may harm its chances in the next election. Abdullah Badawi held the 2008 elections a full year before his term was to expire in March 2009, because he wanted to raise the price of oil drastically. True enough, Malaysians were hit with the steepest ever increase in oil price barely 3 months after the election.

Will he or won’t he?

When Najib Razak took over from Badawi, there was speculation by the ever-hopeful that he might call a snap general election to stamp his legitimacy. This proved to be false. Umno leaders have seldom ever worried about legitimacy to rule. The Perak power grab provides a fine example of their lack of concern in seeking legitimacy from the people.

jangandiamWhen Najib marked his 100 days in office with his bag of 11 goodies for the public, the veteran Lim Kit Siang, who is ever ready for elections, wondered aloud whether this denoted an impending snap election but this was not to be.

It is usual for incumbent PMs to hold elections up to 6 months earlier than their expiry dates, but is there any reason for Najib to call snap elections much earlier?

Umno is undeniably eager to wrest back the states they lost to PR, save Kelantan. The loss of these rich states have resulted in many unemployed and restless Umno warlords who feel lost without the perks of power that they are used to.

But BN now faces its toughest competition ever in the form of Pakatan Rakyat. With the PR juggernaut winning every by-election in the Peninsula save Bagan Pinang, calling early elections could mean being booted out of Federal power early.

The Perak power grab and the attack on the Selangor government show that Umno is more amenable to recapturing the opposition states by bypassing the electoral system than by facing the people.

BN may wait

Will BN’s spectacular success in the Bagan Pinang by-election convince Najib to call the 13th general election sooner rather than later? This is unlikely as an honest analysis will show that BN’s overwhelming victory was due to the distortion of high postal votes making up 1/3 of the total votes and the local popularity of their candidate, rather than being indicative of any national trend.

There are also two events which BN is likely to wait for before testing the electoral battlefield again.

The first is the Sarawak state election. Unlike other states, Sarawak holds its election on an independent schedule from the general election. This election is normally seen as the bellwether of BN support in the state, and is especially critical now that BN’s power depends heavily on Sarawak’s contribution of parliamentary seats. In 2008, Sarawak contributed 30 seats out of a possible 31, which is not an inconsiderable 21% of BN’s total parliamentary seats.

The next state election in Sarawak must be held by May 2011 but there is keen speculation that the ailing white-haired raja Taib Mahmud may hold it next year.

The next event which BN will do well to wait for is the delineation exercise for electoral boundaries, which will start in March 2011 and will take at least a year to complete. Gerrymandering of electoral boundaries to influence outcome is a time-honoured tactic beloved of ruling parties.

BN will wait

There are also several indications that BN will wait. Chief among them is the recent budget of 2009 which has few goodies for the common man. Even more telling, it did not mandate any bonus for civil servants. Hence next year is unlikely to be an election year.

The GST (Goods and Services Tax) is in the final stage of study and is expected to be implemented next year. This will raise the cost of living for everybody and hit low income earners hard, and will require a two years cooling-off period before elections.


The turmoil in MCA and weakness of Gerakan coupled with the stubborn clinging to the MIC leadership by Samy Vellu means that it is not a good time for BN to race into elections just yet. Incidentally, when Samy Vellu is forced to relinquish his post it could be a good indicator of an impending election.

Yet another strong indication that an election is not around the corner is the imposition of mandatory testing of cars 15 years old and above, which will burden and anger many rural Malays who are Umno’s power base. Although Umno cares more about selling cars than about poor people, it knows enough not to commit political suicide.

Will late election favour PR or BN?

So it does not look like there are any compelling reasons for BN to call snap elections, but there are good reasons not to risk its Federal power prematurely. My best bet is that election will be held in late 2012, about 3 years away.

This may be disappointing to impatient PR supporters who want it yesterday, but it is well to examine whether the long lead time will benefit BN more or PR more.

PR could use the time to consolidate their partnership, establish channels to work together and resolve contentious issues and hammer out a common platform to convince voters that they are a viable alternative to BN. More importantly they must demonstrate good governance in the states under them. Registering their partnership as a formal coalition is the next step.

On the other hand, the time could be frittered away in more outbreaks of squabbling, backbiting and party frolics. These have left Malaysians hopeful for change scratching their heads in puzzlement, and wondering if the PR could ever work together.

BN could use the time to repair its frayed relationship with the non-Malays, show some enthusiasm in tackling corruption, bring wrongdoers to book instead of protecting them, stop insulting the intelligence of the public and drive the economy to greater heights with competitive policies.

But more time could also mean more scandals to be exposed, more deaths in custody, more abuse of power by the police, more inane statements by the Home Minister, more controversial court judgements and lack of punishment of wrongdoers, just to mention a small sample. It could also bring an increasing hollowness to Najib’s 1Malaysia slogan when time does not bring concrete actions.

So will the time benefit PR more or BN more? PR appears to need the time critically to improve its weaknesses, while the stream of scandals and abuses will probably not stop with BN. In my opinion PR will benefit more from later election than BN.

So although the time to the next election is long it is more to PR’s favour than BN which should soothe some disappointment of PR supporters.

The final showdown

The 13th general election will be fought and watched unlike any other in the history of Malaysia. Previous elections have never been in doubt, it was only a matter of how many seats the opposition was going to win. The next election will be a titanic struggle between two great forces for the control of Malaysia, the culmination of many by-election battles starting from the green fields of Permatang Pauh when Anwar fought an epic battle for his political comeback.

History will be made, there will be heroes and traitors, victors and vanquished, spontaneous joy and deep disappointments as the nation awaits the results throughout the night with bated breath. When the sun rises again, there will either be a new dawn for Malaysia, or the old order will remain.



  1. But is the Opposition ready?

    Has it done the homework and got to the grass roots?

    Comment by pippit — January 15, 2011 @ 9:31 AM | Reply

  2. The forces that motivate and effect outcomes in BN and in PR are very different. BN depended on coercive forces and incentives while PR uses cooperative forces and conscienable influences.

    Come GE13 cooperative forces and conscienable influences will win the day. It is in the nature of the world and an inescapable truth. When yang forces are taken to extreme it become yin.

    Comment by Tree — November 10, 2009 @ 6:00 PM | Reply

  3. GE13 will be held before 2014! 😉

    Comment by Go — November 10, 2009 @ 5:37 PM | Reply

  4. GE13 will be before 2014 definitely. 😉

    Comment by Go — November 10, 2009 @ 5:36 PM | Reply

  5. Vote to break the political spell and unleash our fate 🙂

    Comment by Social Democrat — November 10, 2009 @ 2:29 PM | Reply

  6. […] we looking at history in the making as the country soon in 3 years time prepare itself for GE13th. The bureaucrats in the government has a roll to play and they need to come to more clear cut […]

    Pingback by ROS “Your Letters not decisive” « Audie61’s Weblog — November 10, 2009 @ 2:20 PM | Reply

  7. Better later than earlier for GE13. For conscientious voters, more time to judge either coalition and work for a 2 party system. For PR, for component parties to learn responsible government and working with each other. For BN, for Najib to show his reforms and walk his 1Malaysia talk. Late 2012 or early 2013 seems about right. Young and first time voters, if they bother, can make the difference in GE13. Will they be motivated to vote for their own future?

    Comment by clearwater — November 10, 2009 @ 10:36 AM | Reply

  8. Go Sarawak, blow the wind of change, go Sarawak, if you make the change, there will be a new dawn for Malaysia: 1 dream, 1 voice, 1 country, 1 race, 1 dream, 1 objective, 1 mission and 1 vision, Malaysia for Malaysian.

    Comment by Golden Son of Kadazan — November 10, 2009 @ 8:14 AM | Reply

    • Sarawak for Sarawakians

      But we will vote for change and take back our country!

      Comment by Sarawakpatriot — January 15, 2011 @ 9:29 AM | Reply

  9. Kenny,

    One other thing you may have inadvertently left out is that the probable 3 years to the next GE may also give enough time for BN to plan and fix the electoral system and process to their advantage.

    Comment by PM Moey — November 10, 2009 @ 1:28 AM | Reply

    • Moey, there’s less fixing that BN can do than generally thought. They do not have 2/3 majority in parliament which is necessary to change electoral laws. Small scale cheating there will be using phantom voters, army votes and so on, but there is at present no mechanism for widespread cheating. Like it or not, BN like PR must win the hearts of the rakyat.

      Comment by Kenny — November 10, 2009 @ 9:30 AM | Reply

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