Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has targeted budget spending at his coalition’s most loyal voters, seeking to limit any damage from more than a year of political turmoil as talk turns to a potential early election.
The premier allocated more funds for his cash handout programme to the poorest 40 per cent of Malaysians, promised civil servants a bonus and introduced extra assistance for farmers. He pledged more roads, bridges and better electricity and water supply for rural regions, and sought to woo younger voters with discounts on outstanding student loans and access to cheap housing in urban areas.
After weathering funding scandals and attempts to topple him for a good part of his second term as premier, Mr Najib must balance a slowing economy with keeping voters happy ahead of an election that could come as soon as March. While the opposition is fractured, it has sought to lure ethnic Malays from Mr Najib’s coalition amid discontent at rising living costs and disillusionment over allegations of graft surrounding the premier.
Mr Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) leads the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has ruled since independence in 1957 with the support of ethnic Malays in the predominantly Islamic nation.
“As we approach the next general election, it is really difficult to say whether it will be smooth sailing for Najib,” said Professor Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, dean of the college of law, government and international studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia. “The budget aims at specific target groups that have been the main supporters of UMNO for a long time. Giving a lot of incentives to these people is crucial to ensure stable and continued support for UMNO and BN.”
While Mr Najib avoided mentioning election timing in the budget speech, he urged his coalition to stay united and “close ranks”.
Malaysians “will continue to be safeguarded”, he said. The Barisan Nasional government will have the “ultimate victory in the 14th General Election”.