The argument is that Barisan Nasional wants to seek a
fresh mandate before it rides through the
mounting uncertainties clouding
the economy and the region.
The political strategy, the reasoning goes, is to get through the polls before the country enters its roughest economic period in 13 years.
The Prime Minister, who is on a
nationwide tour to explain the economic crisis to the people, has asked foreigners not to read too much into the visits.
Last week, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the visits were to explain the current problems to the
Some people, he said, thought that they
were not affected by the economic
slowdown, including those who were in
the rubber, oil palm and cocoa
He said this was because the prices of
the export crops had increased because of the depreciation of the
The visits have been dubbed Semarak II by political observers, in reference to the mammoth gatherings a decade
The last elections were held in April
1995 when the Barisan scored a landslide
Two weeks ago, MCA president Datuk Seri
Dr Ling Liong Sik met the party's 104
elected representatives to brief them on preparations for the general election.
Sending political temperatures rising,
the party's MPs and assemblymen were ordered to set up their election operations centres at state level.
According to party sources, division leaders have been asked to oil their campaign machinery.
The statements of Barisan secretary-general Datuk Mohamed Rahmat and Umno
secretary-general Datuk Sabbaruddin Chik
on gearing up for the polls have added
weight to such speculation.
Mohamed had urged the coalition to
resolve all internal problems, especially divisive issues, to build unity ahead of the next election.
In Kelantan, both the Barisan and PAS
have held mock election campaigns to test their machinery.
In the case of politically-charged
Sabah, the Barisan has held at least
two dry runs.
Sabah must hold their elections by
February next year fuelling talk that simultaneous state and general elections would be held by next year.
There are several factors that one must
take into account when speculating on
Kuala Lumpur will host the Commonwealth Games next month, followed by the
tabling of the 1999 Budget in October,
when the Dewan Rakyat will meet until December.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit will take place in November, which will see one of the largest gatherings of world leaders.
Besides security considerations, such a
meeting requires the support staff from all ministries and agencies
which would make it almost
impossible for polls to be held around
All the ministers, many of whom are
component party leaders, would also be
involved one way or another in the
The year-end possibility seems remote if
we take into account all these important
There is also another argument that an
early general election will be held to
ensure that Umno politicians channel their energy towards Barisan instead of party elections.
As in the past, campaigning for party
posts has been conducted at buka puasa
functions, leading to a ban on such
The trend has always been to hold the
general election first before the party polls to ensure its strength.
For many, the pledge of support for Dr
Mahathir by his deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Penang is significant.
While he has repeatedly made such
declarations, it was the first time he
committed the state's 11 Umno divisions
to endorse Dr Mahathir for presidency.
Anwar's support should end speculation
in the foreign press about the
differences between the two
One foreign report even said that
Barisan has boosted its electoral
chances following the bitter railway dispute with Singapore.
The logic or lack of it from the report
is that widespread patriotism generated from the dispute would translate into votes.
As with many of these foreign reports,
these journalists often choose to
interview European diplomats for their observations.
It is strange that these journalists have never bothered to get the reaction of Asian diplomats. After all, they, too, watch the political
developments in Malaysia closely.
But political analysts can be sure of
one thing polls in Sabah will have to be held by early next year.
Keen contests, many believe, are expected
in many areas in the Sabah polls. The question now is whether Barisan wants to hold the Sabah polls first where competition is tough or to hold both elections together.
And as Mohamed told the nine Sabah
Barisan parties last week: Get ready for
state elections as if it will be held
tomorrow. That's a strong hint.