Malaysia trade chief Azmin Ali says economy needs to recover before polls

LOS ANGELES – Malaysia’s trade chief recommended giving the South-east Asian economy more time to recover from the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic before holding a general election in order to prioritise helping its citizens.

An early election has yet to be brought up in Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Cabinet, but aides had discussions and want to emphasise to the leader the need for more time before a national vote, according to Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali.

Polls currently aren’t scheduled until September 2023, but factions within Umno, the main party in the ruling coalition, have repeatedly called for an early election.

Datuk Seri Ismail has resisted moving up a vote until very recently when the budget was brought forward, raising speculation he was giving in his party’s demands.

“The economy is just about recovering, and we need more time to ensure that we can provide better assistance to people,” Datuk Seri Azmin said Friday in an interview in Los Angeles, where he attended the launch of negotiations among 14 countries for a US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

Mr Ismail has previously said it won’t be easy for the ruling coalition if a vote is called soon, given concerns about inflation and the controversy over a much-delayed warship project.

He told local media on Sunday he has yet to discuss the date for the elections with the Umno leadership and other coalition parties, though polls were “getting closer”.

“I’m not in a position to speak on behalf of his party, but as a government we want to make sure that we do our utmost to support the needs of the people,” said Mr Azmin, whose Bersatu party is a member of the ruling coalition.

He noted that Malaysia’s economy is among the best performers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political and economic grouping of 10 countries in the region, posting an 8.9 per cent growth rate from April through June, the fastest clip in a year.

While growth is expected to stay strong for rest of 2022, the outlook will become more challenging heading into 2023 because of fears of a slowdown in the global economy, the government has previously said.

“We should not be too complacent,” Mr Azmin said. “We need to work hard. And so we need more time, and I think we need to discuss when is the right time to call for an election.”

Mr Azmin said that trade ministers from the 14 nations gathered in California made “incredible progress”, and tentatively plan to meet again in early 2023.

He also said that Malaysia hopes to use a new task force with the Biden administration to discuss Withhold Release Orders imposed on the nation’s companies by US Customs and Border Protection, banning imports of some products on accusations of forced labour.

The task force will allow Mr Ismail’s government to explain to the US government the steps that it has taken to comply with global labour standards, Mr Azmin said. BLOOMBERG