Mahathir Mohammad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia on August 4, 2022.
Syaiful Redzuan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Budget Malaysia 2023
The dissolution comes after the government handed over its budget for 2023 on Friday. While it’s leaner than last year, it’s one of the largest budgets in the country, with planned government spending of $372.3 billion ($80 billion).
Both Mahathir and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who heads the Pakatan Harapan party, have declined to hold early elections due to the monsoon and flooding season, which could hamper turnout or put voters at risk.
The month of November usually faces major floods, Mahathir said.
“If there is an election, the government is banking on voters being prevented from voting due to bad weather to get their own people to support them. So this is not a very good time for elections,” he said.
In addition, many voters received bribes from the government to vote, Mahathir said in an exclusive interview with CNBC last Thursday.
The government should focus on rooting out corruption and improving the country’s economic governance, Mahathir said.
“The current government is not focused on getting rid of corruption – the government itself is corrupt,” he said.
“As you know, the leadership of the ruling party is mired in corruption and they are also being brought to justice for their past misdeeds.”
“They won’t be able to tackle the problem. Because they are corrupt from the very top.”
97-year-old Mahathir, who holds the record as Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, will contest the elections with his new party, Gerakan Tanah Air.
He expressed concerns that former Prime Minister Najib’s UMNO party could win the election despite the 1MDB scandal, as the party is backed by “hard-core supporters” who still believe in Najib’s innocence.
Asked if he could work with the opposition Pakatan Harapan party to contest the elections and form a cleaner government, he said: “No, I can’t work with these people because they are corrupt – top to bottom. “
Corruption, inflation, unemployment
Anwar told CNBC that if Mahathir’s main concern is corruption, then he should give more support to Pakatan Harapan, which he says has consistently fought corruption for many years.
“I share the view of Dr. Mahathir that we must root out corruption for the country to move forward. That means we have to deal with all forms of corruption,” he said.
“We cannot limit the anti-corruption campaign to political opponents and enemies while ignoring the excesses among political allies, including former leaders who have enriched themselves and their families.”
Like Mahathir, he said the government should focus on issues like record high food inflation.
“Among UMNO and Najib, [the government] totally failed to implement a coherent national food security plan. Their failure is causing tremendous hardship for Malaysian families today,” he said.
There are other problems such as high youth unemployment, lack of jobs due to low domestic and foreign investment, pandemic-hit small and medium-sized enterprises in trouble and failed social safety nets for the country’s poor, Anwar added.
“I support elections as soon as it is safe,” Anwar said, referring to safe campaigning and voting after the monsoon season.
“I’m not in favor of elections being held just so that some figures in the governing coalition can save themselves from cases of corruption and long prison sentences.”
dr Norshahril Saat, senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said Malaysian voters would not only be overwhelmed by the country’s economic woes and global headwinds, but also by a future government’s ability to pull them out of the economic crisis.
In the forthcoming election, there will be “multifaceted struggles,” he added.
“The question is not whether any coalition can go it alone after the election, [but that] no coalition can win on its own. There must be some alliances after that [the general election],” he said.