KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian leader Najib Razak has announced a 2.2 billion ringgit ($693 million) payout for civil servants and retired government workers ahead of general elections widely expected this year, earning a rebuke from opposition lawmakers who called it an attempt to buy votes.
Najib said in a statement late Wednesday that the country's 1.27 million civil servants will receive a half-month bonus and some 660,000 former government workers will be given a special payment of 500 ringgit ($157). The money will arrive next month ahead of the Muslim Eid festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Support from the civil service would be a huge boost to Najib's ruling coalition, which is seeking to regain lost ground after suffering unprecedented losses in 2008 polls. Elections must be called by next year, but Najib is expected to call snap polls to take advantage of a robust economy.
"It's an election payout," said opposition lawmaker Tony Pua. "The government will likely spend more money in the coming weeks to stay in power than be prudent in their expenditure."
Najib said the payout was a token of appreciation for the civil service and reflected the government's strong fiscal position. He has been touring the country in recent months to garner support but hasn't given any indication on when he will call elections.
"The public sector is an important base of support for the ruling coalition," political analyst Ibrahim Suffian said. "They want to create a feel-good factor and hope it will translate into votes."
Najib's coalition has led Malaysia since independence in 1957 but suffered its worst electoral performance ever in 2008. It now has slightly less than a two-thirds majority in Parliament and is working hard to claw back support.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has said he is confident his three-party alliance can win a comfortable majority in the upcoming polls amid widespread public unhappiness over the government's handling of corruption and racial discrimination.