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PM downplays early election talk, keen on reintroducing GST

KUALA LUMPUR (May 31): Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has downplayed calls for an early election, citing a rise in food prices and other living costs, Nikkei reported on Tuesday (May 31).

An election is not due until 2023 but Ismail Sabri has been facing pressure from some in Umno to call an early vote to capitalise on the party's resurgent popularity in recent local polls.

The premier told Nikkei in an interview he will wait for "the right time" to call an election, given inflationary pressures partly stemming from the Ukraine conflict.

"We are now facing a period of increasing inflation with high prices ... do you think this is the right time?" Ismail Sabri was quoted by Nikkei as saying.

Malaysia's central bank expects headline inflation to average between 2.2% and 3.2% this year, with food costs up 4.1% in April. Earlier this month, the central bank unexpectedly raised its key interest rate to cool inflationary pressures.

The government has introduced price control measures, but the cost of subsidies has weighed on its coffers.

Ismail Sabri told Nikkei the government is keen on reintroducing the goods and services tax (GST).

The Barisan Nasional government introduced the GST in 2015, but it was scrapped three years later by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's administration after voters blamed the 6% consumption tax for rising costs.

Ismail Sabri said the government is aware of the GST's unpopularity but had limited options, noting that it had lost RM20 billion in annual revenue after the tax was abolished.

The government would target a GST rate that does not burden the people, but is not so low that it "defeats the purpose of expanding tax revenue", he told Nikkei.

Malaysia is expected to spend RM28 billion on fuel subsidies alone in 2022, more than double the RM11 billion spent last year, in addition to subsidies for cooking oil, sugar and flour.


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