The country has had three prime ministers in the last two years, at a time when the economy has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Announcing the dissolution of parliament, Ismail said political instability has had a negative impact on the economy and expressed a need to return the mandate to the people.
Analysts also expect the instability to hurt voter turnout, especially among those who traditionally vote for the opposition, due to political disillusionment.
Graft was a key reason for UMNO’s defeat in 2018, and some critics say a convincing UMNO election win in the upcoming election could worsen corruption and see the return of graft-tainted politicians to power.
Several of the party’s top leaders were charged after the election loss, and they are the ones who urged Ismail to call for early polls.
Ismail last month announced a wide-ranging misconduct probe against a former attorney-general who had brought graft cases against UMNO officials.
Former prime minister Najib Razak, along with UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and several other senior party officials, were slapped with dozens of corruption charges. All have denied wrongdoing, with Najib and Ahmad Zahid describing the charges against them as politically motivated.
In August, Najib started a 12-year jail term after being convicted of corruption and money laundering in a case linked to the multibillion-dollar financial scandal 1MDB. He still faces four other trials.
RACE AND RELIGION
Race and religion remain divisive issues in Malaysia – a diverse, multi-ethnic country of about 32.7 million people.
Ethnic Malays, who are mainly Muslim, and indigenous groups make up about 70 per cent of the population, while the rest are made up of mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians.
Conservative Malays, who make up the bulk of voters, were more likely to return to supporting UMNO after feeling sidelined by Mahathir’s administration, which saw a higher number of non-Malays appointed to high-ranking cabinet positions.
“For most Malays, it’s UMNO or at least the Malay parties being firmly in charge of any future government,” said political analyst Oh.