On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Expect a memorable year ahead

Barisan Nasional leaders have  regarded the state polls as a test of  public support for the Barisan Nasional since
the sacking of Datuk  Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Although the fight for votes in  Sabah
have always been robust, it  is unlikely
Anwar's sacking would  be a contentious

While Anwar has played a prominent role in Sabah Umno and could  even be credited for playing a major role in
the last state polls, federal issues matter more. In fact,  the opposition PBS has not even  bothered to link up with pro-reformasi

In a state where anything political is possible, the word is that  Barisan and PBS are already talking about
coming back together.  The only question
is whether it  should be before or after
the polls.

There is also this tricky question  of
whether the chief minister's rotation system among the three  main communities should continue.

Should the PBS return to the  coaltion,
it would be a boost to Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad's  leadership.

At the federal level, the three  main
Barisan component parties   Umno, MCA and
MIC  will hold  their elections.

Umno has scheduled to hold its  internal
polls in June with the focus on the contest for the deputy  president and three vice-president  posts.

The main contenders for the  number two
slot is said to be Datuk  Seri Najib Tun
Razak, Datuk Seri  Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
and  Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

In the MCA, moves have been  made to
ensure a no-contest elections at the vice-presidency level.

Party president Datuk Seri Dr  Ling Liong
Sik and his deputy, Datuk Lim Ah Lek, are certain to win  their posts unopposed.

The spotlight will certainly be on  the
four vice-president posts now  held by
Datuk Chua Jui Meng, Datuk Ong Ka Ting, Datuk Dr Fong  Chan Onn and Datuk Yap Pian  Hon.

Should Youth Chief Datuk Chan  Kong Choy
decide to vie for one of  the four slots,
as predicted, it  means a vacancy in the
top Youth  post.

There is also talk, within the party, that a contest between Wanita  deputy chief Dr Tan Yew Kew and  secretary-general Datuk Dr Ng  Yen Yen is in the offing should incumbent
Datuk Teng Gaik Kwan  step down.

But the message from the top is  “avoid
a contest,'' an advice which  members
should consider seriously with a general election looming.

Anwar's court battle will continue to dominate the news next year  as his trial will take place from  February till June. More charges  are expected to be filed against  him.

The fate of his former tennis  partner S.
Nallakaruppan, who is  charged with
possession of ammunition under the ISA, will be known  next year. His trial has been postponed to

PAS is expected to be prominent  with its
efforts to win the support  of voters who
are uneasy with Anwar's sacking from Umno.

So confident is PAS with its  plans to
make inroads into states  such as Perlis,
Kedah and Terengganu that it has started wooing the  non-Malays.

But it is unlikely that the non Malays, regarded as the deciding  factor in a closely-contested general
election, will find PAS appealing  with
its orthodox practices. Most  non-Malays
find the thought of  PAS denying Barisan
a two-thirds  majority in Parliament

Certainly, DAP must have  gauged the
sentiments of the non Malays on the current political  scenario as evident by the DAP's  moves in distancing itself from  PAS of late.

PAS has claimed that its membership has increased five-fold and  that the circulation of Harakah has  shot to 300,000. However, few in  the media and advertising industry  believe the unconfirmed circulation

What is confirmed is that sales  of most
local newspapers have  gone up despite a
boycott by reformasi supporters.

Of interest to Malaysians will  also be
the plans of Adil, the reform movement led by Datin Seri  Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and a  group of academicians.

The movement will certainly  generate
more political consciousness. With its multiracial line-up, it  will probably find a niche among  the middle class. Whether it will  have mass appeal remains to be  seen.

Adil has also decided to leave out 
politicians in an attempt to shrug 
off public belief that the reformasi 
movement has been hijacked by 
PAS. It will have to resort to the 
existing channels of democracy if 
it wants to gain credence among 
the moderates as the use of street 
demonstrations is ill-received.

But politics would not be the  only story
next year. Economics  will share the
limelight as Malaysia attempts to fight itself out of  recession.

Despite the pessimism of this  year, the
pre-Christmas rally has  brought cheer to
local stock market investors. The crowd is back at  our securities firm, bringing some  resemblance of confidence.

Many Malaysians believe that  the bullish
trend will continue with  another rally
before Hari Raya and  Chinese New

They also believe that Bank Negara will announce some positive  steps to ease the one-year freeze  on foreign capital outflows imposed in
September, which will be  another big
news item next year.

The decision to impose capital  controls
and to lower interest rates  have brought
positive results to  the economy so far.
Many will  want to see this impact
continue  next year.

For those in the newspaper industry, its almost certain that  1999, the last lap into the next millennium,
will be a memorable one.