Malaysia Issues 30-Day Ban on Mahathir's Party Ahead of Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad’s party has been banned from campaigning for 30 days, a move that could dent his challenge to Prime Minister Najib Razak in a coming election.

Najib is expected to announce as soon as Friday that parliament has been dissolved, paving the way for a vote to be held within two months.

The action by the Registry of Societies Malaysia was triggered when Mahathir’s party, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, failed to meet a deadline to supply some information and documents by March 29, registry director-general Surayati Ibrahim said Thursday at a briefing in Putrajaya. 

The party can either appeal the ban or submit the documents -- if it doesn’t it will be deregistered, Surayati said. She did not specify what information the registry was seeking.

Mahathir plans to submit an appeal to Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi while maintaining business as usual, the former premier said late Thursday at a briefing. If the appeal is rejected, the party will challenge the decision in the courts, he added.

“We’re disputing the legitimacy of the notice sent to us by RoS,” Mahathir said, using the acronym for the registry. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re still a functioning party.”

PPBM President Muhyiddin Yassin said in a video posted to the party’s Facebook page that it submitted required documents by the deadline and had been told its paperwork was in order.

“I ask everyone to stay calm while the leaders study this issue for our next action,” he said in the video. “I would like to assure everyone that this situation won’t in the slightest weaken our determination to uphold the truth."

At a briefing several weeks ago, Mahathir said candidates would contest the election under the name of another party in the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition if needed.

Even so, the registry’s move could be a setback to Mahathir’s campaign against Najib. Mahathir, who was Malaysia’s longest-serving leader and once headed the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, fell out with Najib several years ago and has since become his most strident public critic.

Pakatan Harapan has been counting on Mahathir to win over the rural Malay heartland, long regarded as Barisan Nasional’s vote bank and the key to breaking its 60-year rule. The dissolution will hurt the opposition’s prospects in rural areas, said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, an analyst with BowerGroupAsia risk consultancy. 

"I don’t think it will dent Mahathir’s campaign trail as his brand is bigger than PPBM itself," he said. "It will however affect PPBM’s candidates who will be relying on Mahathir’s name and his association with PPBM -- the provisional dissolution would only rally the converted and will unlikely sway the fence-sitters.”

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