The long wait for the general election to be called is almost over as all the signs point to the Prime Minister making the big move this week.
EVERYONE thinks it is going to be any day now. They are, of course, talking about when Parliament will be dissolved for the general election.
Last Wednesday, there was a mild speculation frenzy after the Prime Minister’s black Proton Perdana Executive was spotted going through the Palace gates early in the morning. A Malay daily tweeted about it and soon the chatter was Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had sought the King’s consent for the dissolution of Parliament.
Najib did indeed have an audience with the King as he does every Wednesday before chairing the weekly Cabinet meeting, and many people had a good laugh at themselves after that.
Speculation about the dissolution date has gone from “Is it going to be next month?” to “Is it tomorrow?” or even “Heard that PM is meeting the (Yang di-Pertuan) Agong this afternoon.”
The window is getting smaller and every little move by Najib is scrutinised and analysed for hints. But even those with access to him are flummoxed.
“We keep watching PM’s body language but no hints at all from him. When we ask him, all he says is, be ready,” said Umno executive secretary Datuk Rauf Yusoh.
A few days ago, PKR deputy president Azmin Ali tweeted that Parliament would be dissolved on March 18. But the opposition parties have been predicting the general election since 2010 and we are still waiting.
The Prime Minister is as ready as can be, according to several top editors who met him at his office on Monday. It was a sort of tea-chat where they exchanged views over a variety of issues.
And, of course, there was the burning question of the day: When? Nobody really expected him to say when but what came across during the exchange was how visibly confident Najib was.
“He was upbeat, he looked at ease. I think he is ready. He has an impressive report card in terms of the Government’s economic transformation policies. He has responded to the new political landscape in terms of social and political reforms. He’s got his finger on the national pulse, he has reached out to everyone and he’s tuned in to issues of the day,” said one of the editors.
Najib told them he is “cautiously optimistic” about Barisan Nasional’s chances in the elections. It is a phrase he has used whether in private or in public.
During a televised town hall-style session titled “Conversation with the PM” a few days ago, he had said: “I say cautiously optimistic because we cannot take anything for granted. But I am very encouraged by the people’s response especially when I go round. At the same time, we have done our assessments, numbers and we believe the rakyat is behind us and the rakyat feel that their future is more secure with Barisan Nasional.”
He has put his heart and soul into his work and those close to him said he has every reason to be confident and that he has his sights set on regaining Barisan’s two-third majority in Parliament.
But like all seasoned politicians, he knows that this is the time when politicians are about to approach the people to ask for their precious votes and support. Humility is important and it is not the time to talk big or be presumptuous.
Najib has often been described as a wartime prime minister given the challenging post-2008 political landscape. But the terror intrusions in Lahad Datu has lent an uncanny meaning to the sobriquet and he has been able to draw on his experience as Defence Minister in handling the crisis.
He has been visibly saddened by the deaths on the battle front and his focus over the last few weeks has been as much on the situation in Sabah as it has been on the polls. The crisis is under control but far from over.
It has also taken on a life of its own in terms of national impact. There has been a surging tide of nationalist and patriotic sentiments especially among the Malays. Many have been moved by the nightly reporting from the battle front and the televised replay of the Jalur Gemilang-draped coffins emerging from the belly of army aircraft as solemn military music played in the background.
Malaysians have been galvanised by what is happening in Lahad Datu and what it means to the country’s national security. They are angry there are people out there who have attempted to ridicule the gravity of the situation.
For instance, Wong Chin Huat, a leading figure in the Bersih group and now working for a Penang government think-tank, had in the early weeks of the crisis tweeted that the Sulu intruders were here for Chinese New Year, they would be getting ang pows, they decided to stay for Chap Goh Meh, they enjoyed it so much they extended their stay. He probably meant it as a joke but it was not funny when people, especially our police personnel, began dying.
PKR vice-president Tian Chua is facing sedition charges after dozens of police reports were lodged over his alleged remarks that the Sabah intrusion was a political conspiracy.
Very few are keen to talk openly about how Lahad Datu will impact on the political prospect of either Barisan or Pakatan Rakyat. It would be in bad taste given that the armed forces are out there, putting their lives on the line for the nation. But the political mood in Sabah is very different today compared to a month ago and talk about “Ubah” or change has quietened somewhat.
Pakatan leaders have been going on about how they are going to take Putrajaya. They have been reluctant to say how many seats they can possibly win to form the government but are making a concerted bid to win more seats in Johor, Sarawak and Sabah.
They have been very strategic in focusing on these states where there are a sizable number of Chinese-majority seats because they have won all the Chinese seats that they could possibly win in other states on the west coast.
But they have been tactically silent about the fact that Kedah and Selangor are looking wobbly. They may also lose seats in several other states that were won thanks to the political tsunami.
For example, at least five parliamentary seats are expected to fall to Umno in Kelantan. In Penang, Umno is sure of taking back two parliamentary seats from PKR while in Perak, at least four Pakatan parliamentary seats are in danger.
This means that the gains Pakatan makes in their frontline states may be negated by losses elsewhere. State seats usually carry parliamentary seats and if Kedah and Selangor fall, Barisan will be looking at a two-thirds majority.
The general consensus is that Barisan will still be in Putrajaya after the general election. It will win with a comfortable margin but will fall short of a two-thirds majority. Besides, very few democracies in the world enjoy two-thirds majority governments.
“Only the size of the majority remains uncertain,” said Asli CEO Tan Sri Michael Yeoh.
Yeoh put it in a nutshell when he said that there are basically three possible outcomes for the elections:
> The status quo remains for Barisan at around 140 parliamentary seats.
> A reduced majority for Barisan.
> Barisan regains two-thirds majority.
Najib, said Yeoh, will campaign from a position of strength that is premised on his personality, the hard work he has put in and his track record of policies and programmes.
One of the reasons why Pakatan’s recently launched manifesto has not had the traction of the earlier Buku Jingga is because of Najib’s Janji Ditepati reputation, which has been in sharp contrast to Pakatan’s excuse that “manifesto bukan janjian” (a manifesto is not a promise).
He has shown that it can walk the talk and deliver on its word.
“However, the urban voters are still largely with the Opposition. The urban Chinese support for DAP is strong and as high as 85% of urban Chinese may vote for it,” said Yeoh.
Umno, he said, will be the big Barisan winner and DAP will be the big Pakatan winner. Malaysian politics is likely to get even more racially polarised.
It has been a long wait for the mother of all battles. During a pre-election briefing for the editorial staff a few weeks ago, this paper’s group chief editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai asked how many in the auditorium were covering the general election for the first time.
On seeing the number of hands, he said with a laugh: “Never mind, don’t worry. The last five years have been one long election campaign.”
He is so right. It has also been five years of endless politicking over almost everything and anything. And just as you thought that it could not get any more complicated, you have Saiful Bukhari Azlan and his father Azlan Mohd Lazim contradicting each other on Saiful’s sex allegations against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
But nothing could have been more stunning than how the Lynas campaign has unfolded. Lynas leader Wong Tack is now a DAP election candidate and he has veered from wanting to burn down the plant to okaying Lynas if it “goes through the front door”.
On the other hand, Anwar said Lynas may be allowed to operate but his PKR Wanita chief Fuziah Salleh went the opposite direction with a firm “No”.
The saying that fact is stranger than fiction has been all too true when it comes to politics since 2008.
Publisher Datuk A. Kadir Jasin’s gripe about some of the greenhorn politicians swept in by the political tsunami is that they have been like “ayam jantan baru belajar berkokok” (cockerels learning how to crow).
“They not only crow at the wrong time, they are also out of tune and are a nuisance to the whole kampung,” said Kadir.
The result has been some questionable Yang Berhormats who have a talent for saying the wrong things at the wrong time about issues which they are less than qualified to talk about.
Malaysians have had ample time to assess what the two coalitions are about. And that is why candidates are going to be a big factor in the elections.
Najib will meet the King again on Wednesday prior to the Cabinet meeting. But this time, according to insiders, this might just be the day when he seeks His Majesty’s consent to dissolve Parliament. If that happens, he will then return to inform his Cabinet before making a public announcement.
The long wait is almost over.