On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Good reasons for PM to hold early polls

Dr Mahathir's popularity is at an all-time high while the
opposition front comprising PAS, Parti Keadilan Nasional and Parti Rakyat
Malaysia is in disarray. Keadilan itself is struggling to keep intact following
a series of resignations of its top leaders.

The popularity of PAS has been deeply eroded after the Sept 11 attacks in New
York, particularly when it called for a jihad (holy war) against the United
States for retaliating against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The involvement of several PAS grassroots members in the Kumpulan Militan
Malaysia jolted many Malaysians, particularly moderate Muslims, and caused many
to reassess the kind of politics propagated by the Islamist party.

The DAP, understanding the sentiments of its core support among the
non-Muslims, tried to save itself by pulling out of the opposition pact but it
has yet to recover from the effects of working with PAS in the 1999 general

It took a beating from Chinese voters, with several top DAP guns being

The Barisan Nasional component parties, particularly the MCA and Gerakan, need
to take advantage of a weak DAP. Come September, when the memories of the first
anniversary of the New York tragedy are replayed, strong emotions would be
evoked again.

But the Sept 11 factor would fade away among Malaysians if Barisan decides to
wait longer to call for elections. One week in politics is a long time, as the
saying goes.

On the economic front, there is now renewed interest in the Kuala Lumpur Stock
Exchange and there is talk that the foreign buyers would return strongly to our

The property market, especially at the high end, seems to have rebounded with
news reports of buyers having to ballot for semi-detached and bungalow units in
freehold areas of the Klang Valley.

Despite initial fears of massive retrenchments following the slowdown in the
United States, the situation has been well managed by our government.

Dr Mahathir's standing in the international community has changed tremendously
since Sept 11. If he was treated with suspicion previously for his strong
actions against suspected extremists, particularly in using the Internal
Security Act, there is now greater understanding.

He is seen as a moderate Muslim leader in a progressive Islamic country who
wields considerable clout among Islamic nations. The hosting of the recent
Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur has certainly
boosted his credentials.

Clearly, the US is seeing Malaysia in a different light with the country now
being described by the White House as the regional ''beacon of

Next week, Dr Mahathir will travel to the United States where he will meet
President George W. Bush. The high-profile meeting is important because it will
ease the strained relationship between the two countries.

Dr Mahathir will have a busy schedule, including a meeting with the influential
editors at The Washington Post and meetings with White House officials and

On the local front, the MCA will need some time to work on the peace agenda.
All players at all levels must realise that there is more at stake than a fight
over party posts.

A divided MCA will not be good for Barisan as it gears itself for the next
general election. Gerakan must also appreciate that it needs the MCA during the
election and that the fight in the MCA does not benefit the Penang-based

There is still a great degree of unhappiness among Chinese voters towards the
MCA for its bitter factional fight. Party leaders, whether they like it or not,
have to come together.

Unity gatherings involving grassroots leaders and Chinese guilds can be
organised to forge unity and to show that they can close ranks to face a common

Within Umno, its elections (one due next year) have always been exciting
affairs but party members may spend too much time campaigning, which would not
augur well for Barisan.

It is speculated that Dr Mahathir may want to call for the general election
before the Umno polls.

Another factor to consider would be the progress of the delineation exercise by
the Election Commission involving the creation of more parliamentary and state

The proposal, once completed, will have to be approved by Parliament. These new
seats would then have to be identified before the general election is

But the consensus among many Barisan leaders is that the general election is
not that far away and preparations should start now – it is a perception that
is shared by the Opposition.

Last week, Dr Mahathir dropped a hint by saying he will be defending his Kubang
Pasu seat in the next general election.