On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Ready and eager for the polls

For the 500 Barisan Nasional  Youth leaders, particularly those  from the peninsula who turned up  for the three-day convention, it  was an eye-opener.

The Tuaran parliamentary seat  is held by
PBS leader Yunof Marinking, a party vice-president.

The convention participants  spent their
time not only to strategise for the general election but  also to try to convince the constituents that
they should vote Barisan  for

The PBS had won Tuaran, a party stronghold, with a majority of  2,006 votes in a straight fight in the  1995 general election.

Last week, almost all the top  Umno
leaders headed by Datuk  Seri Dr Mahathir
Mohamad campaigned in the state which has 21 
parliamentary seats at stake, including Labuan. The PBS has six  MPs in the 192-member Dewan  Rakyat.

There are several reasons why  Umno has
focussed on Sabah. Morale is still high following Barisan's victory in the
March state  elections which saw the
coalition  winning 31 out of 48

Despite fears that the Datuk Seri  Anwar
Ibrahim issue could erode  Barisan's
support, Umno won all  the 24 state seats
it contested.

The pro-opposition foreign media had, in fact, written Barisan  off. An hour after polling closed, a  news agency reported that Barisan  had supposedly lost.

In the end, it was the Kadazans  who
rejected their leaders in Barisan. The division in the community  has been costly  they lost their  chief minister's post, the important state
Cabinet positions, and  their political

As the general election looms  nearer,
Umno seems certain of doing well again in Sabah. The Opposition Front
comprising Parti Keadilan Nasional, PAS, DAP and PRM  is almost non-existent in the state.

Despite attempts by Keadilan to  strike a
pact with PBS, the latter  has politely
turned down any formal arrangement. The reason is  simple: it would be suicidal for  PBS, which has strong backing  from Christian groups, to work  with PAS which wants to set up an  Islamic state.

That aside, PBS doesn't need any  help
from these opposition parties  and it
certainly has no intention of  sharing
any seats with them.

Keadilan is eyeing Labuan, now  held by
Barisan  so is PBS. Many  believe a three-way contest involving the
three parties is likely in  Labuan.

While Umno seems certain of  winning all
the Muslim bumiputra  majority seats,
most Sabah watchers believe that the PBS can maintain the status quo.

Dr Mahathir's two-day visit to 
Sabah  during which he spoke
in  Labuan, Lahad Datu and Kota
Kinabalu  marked the second round  of his nation-wide tour.

Soon after the state elections, he 
visited Ranau, a trip many political 
observers interpreted as the start 
of his general election campaign.

Equally important is Sarawak,  which has
28 parliamentary seats.  Except for the
DAP-held Bintulu  seat, the state is a
Barisan fortress.

The two states are crucial because they make up almost a third  of the seats in Parliament. If the  Barisan has the two states in its  bag, it will be able to concentrate  on the peninsula.

Mathematically, the tussle will  be over
seats comprising the rest  of the

First Finance Minister Tun Daim 
Zainuddin told reporters in Tuaran 
that the elections could be held 
anytime now since the country had 
begun recovering from the economic downturn.

Malaysians were beginning to  smile, he
said, adding that it was a  sure sign of
economic recovery.

But Dr Mahathir has yet to give  any
hints of the election date. The  Prime
Minister is scheduled to be  in New York
from Sept 25 to 29 and  in Zimbabwe from
Oct 2 to 6.

The date for the Budget has  changed
twice  the latest being  Oct 29. Those who predict that the  polls will be held after October,  possibly in November, expect an  election budget besides it being a  report card on how the country has  fared economically.

Many of the campaigners are beginning to show signs of fatigue.  They hope Parliament will be dissolved soon
so that they can go full  swing.

It must be worse for those in the 
opposition. PAS, for example, has 
campaigned for the past one year 
with a ceramah almost every 

Despite the demand from the  DAP for a
longer campaign period,  the unofficial
campaigning has  gone on far too

Barisan campaigners reckon  that the
longer the Prime Minister  delays in
calling for elections, the  greater the
possibility of fresh issues for the Opposition to raise.

Eager they may be, Barisan  campaigners
should ask themselves whether they are capable of  rebutting questions raised by the  Opposition 
from the jailing of  former Kota
Melaka MP Lim Guan  Eng to the alleged
arsenic poisoning of Anwar.

At Tuaran, the Barisan Youth 
participants had to wake up at 5am 
 for exercise, moral
lectures,  seminar-paper presentation
and  campaigning  and only got to bed  at about midnight.

To reduce expenses, the organisers packed more than two participants to a

Having gone through such rigorous training, the participants can't  wait to put their newly-acquired  skills to good use.