Malaysia plans early polls as PM Yaakob’s party seeks new mandate

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Malaysia will hold elections on November 19 with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s party looking to capitalize on a string of victories from local polls and consolidate power in the Southeast Asian country.

The Election Commission fixed nomination day for November 5, Chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh said at a briefing on Thursday. A total of 222 parliament seats will be contested, plus the state seats for Perak, Pahang, and Perlis.

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A national vote is not due until September next year but key members of Ismail’s United Malays National Organization wanted to bring forward elections to capitalize on a weaker opposition and regain the mandate following a shock defeat in 2018. UMNO clawed back into power after the collapse of Mahathir Mohamad’s government but has led a very fragile coalition since.

The elections will involve multi-cornered contests, with several coalitions including UMNO-led Barisan Nasional and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan alliance vying for votes.

That makes it tricky for any party to win an outright majority needed to ensure political stability.

Adding to the uncertainty is the impact 5.8 million new young voters would have in shaping the outcome of the election, following the government’s move to lower the minimum voting age to 18 from 21. There’s already widespread unhappiness over holding polls during the annual monsoon season that starts in November and could affect voter turnout.

Most Malaysians are still angry with Ismail’s government for its slow response to tackling the floodwaters last year, which left dozens dead and led to more than 6.5 billion ringgit ($1.4 billion) in losses.

Malaysia’s shaky political situation has also been a sore spot for investors and credit rating companies due to a series of short-lived coalitions that brought the country three prime ministers since the last general election in 2018.

Pakatan Harapan ousted UMNO in the historic vote that year but collapsed 22 months later due to defections. That returned UMNO to power in alliance with Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional. The grouping didn’t last -- Muhyiddin was forced to resign as premier in August 2021 after some UMNO lawmakers withdrew support, paving the way for Ismail to take office.

In recent months Ismail faced repeated calls from UMNO leaders to hasten elections. He dissolved parliament on October 10, citing the need to restore the people’s mandate to resolve criticisms over his government’s legitimacy.

Read more: Explainer: Key issues as Malaysia gets set to go to the polls

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