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M’sia may dissolve Parliament early for elections next month

Malaysia could dissolve Parliament this month, cutting short its current sitting and paving the way for polls next month or in May, sources told The Straits Times.

As government and opposition leaders criss-crossed the country to prepare for the upcoming polls, Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to table new electoral maps next week, which critics have said favour his ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN).

Approval of these new maps could be the last piece of business for this Parliament, which had been scheduled to sit until April 5. The boundaries could be passed by lawmakers and given the royal assent within days.

Parliament had earlier been expected to also debate a proposed law to curb fake news, but this may be abandoned as the draft Bill is not ready yet.

"Dissolution as early as March 29 or 30. Polling end of April or beginning May," said a source.

Potential balloting dates being mentioned are the weekends of April 28, May 5 and 12.

Another source pointed out that the Cabinet met yesterday instead of the usual Friday when Parliament is sitting, so Mr Najib could brief BN leaders on plans before the Muslim fasting month begins in mid-May.

Lawmakers are debating the King's speech, with ministers slated to wrap up next week.

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Although four days have been scheduled as usual for them to respond to issues raised by MPs, the process can be accelerated with the Speaker limiting the time for each reply.

The new maps - which analysts have said could hand BN up to 10 wards in the 222-seat Parliament without any increase in support - can also be presented to the House this week but only debated and passed next week.

The Election Commission has said it can put into effect the new boundaries just days after they receive royal assent.

The government had earlier aimed to pass a new law against "fake news", which was criticised by the opposition as a means to muffle dissent. A committee was announced at the end of January, but a source said "they are having trouble drafting a Bill that is legally sound".

De facto Law Minister Azalina Othman Said, who heads the committee, had said on March 5 that she was confident the draft will be ready this week.

But she revealed on Tuesday that the committee was still seeking input from stakeholders.

Another indicator of the upcoming polls is the unveiling of BN's election manifesto, set for April 7.

In the past, BN had revealed its pledges only after the dissolution of Parliament, and the country had gone to the polls within four weeks of the coalition launching its manifesto.

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