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Brunei
Saturday, November 26, 2022
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Saturday, November 26, 2022
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    Malaysia unveils ‘populist’ budget, fuelling snap polls speculation

    KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysia unveiled a tightened national budget for 2023 yesterday but the inclusion of a few billion dollars in cash handouts and tax cuts has fuelled speculation that the government may soon call snap elections.

    Polls are scheduled to take place in September next year but Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is facing intense pressure from within his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party to dissolve Parliament and secure a strong mandate in early elections.

    Since former prime minister Najib Razak was ousted in 2018 elections and subsequently jailed on money-laundering charges, three successive Malaysian governments have been plagued by political infighting.

    Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz set out a MYR372 billion (USD80 billion) budget – an amount marginally lower than the previous year – that reflected Malaysia’s shrinking revenues.

    But the spending plan also included a series of financial incentives.

    Zafrul offered MYR10 billion in cash and welfare aid for low-income households and a cut in personal income tax rates by two percentage points, which will cost the government an additional MYR800 million.

    Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz tables the Budget 2023 in Parliament yesterday. PHOTO: BERNAMA

    “Goodness, this is a populist election budget. Every group is getting something,” Professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania James Chin told AFP.

    “I have no doubt there will be elections after this.”

    Talk of an early general election began swirling in Malaysia after the government announced that it would bring forward the budget by three weeks.

    Zafrul said Malaysia’s economy is expected to expand 6.5 per cent to seven per cent in 2022 but slow down to between four per cent and five per cent in 2023 amid a gloomy global outlook.

    UMNO and the Barisan Nasional coalition were sensationally defeated in the 2018 elections by a reformist pact led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

    The party returned to power in March 2020 after mass defections led to the collapse of Mahathir’s government but the once formidable political juggernaut is split into factions.

    Party leaders are confident an early poll would result in a stronger mandate, but critics have said an election could distract the government from dealing with the effects of heavy monsoon rains that occur during this time of year, bringing deadly floods to the country’s east coast.

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