On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Message goes out – get ready for polls

The message seems to be directed at the MCA, which is
trying to end its leadership crisis after more than a year. As the second
largest component party, there is no way the coalition can go to the polls
without the MCA ending its feud, which has badly affected the party's image and

Party insiders say the two factions in the MCA are trying to reach a solution
ahead of the party general assembly in July.

In Sabah, Dr Mahathir reminded his audience at the Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah
congress on Friday about Barisan's concept of power sharing. His presence at
the meeting was certainly a testimony to what he said because the PBRS is one
of the smallest parties in the 14-member coalition.

Tracing the formation of Umno, Dr Mahathir said Barisan had been effective
because Malaysia was one of the most successful developing nations today.

More election talk was uttered in Terengganu when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi stepped up his campaign against PAS by criticising the way in which the
Islamist party had been running the state.

Expressing regret that the PAS state government had opposed the setting up of
two Mara junior science colleges in Terengganu, Abdullah said the action had
deprived Terengganu students of getting an education in the state.

More salvos can be expected over the coming months. Next month, the Umno
general assembly will be held for four days from June 18 at the Putra World
Trade Centre.

It is likely to be the largest party general assembly as the nation awaits Dr
Mahathir's final message at the meeting. He is also scheduled to speak to
members on June 17 at a closed-door meeting in the run-up to the general

It will be MCA's turn on July 12, where Dr Mahathir has been invited to open
the party's general assembly at the Dewan San Choon. From June 1, MCA president
Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik and other party leaders will attend the various
state conventions ahead of the assembly.

These meetings are crucial because they will serve as a platform for the
leaders to send a clear message to their grassroots members.

MCA leaders would have to seriously examine their priorities, as well as that
of Barisan, as the clock ticks away. They have to prove to the Chinese
community that they can place the people's interest first and that message
would have to be emphasised at the general assembly.

The setting up of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman and the on-going fund-raising
campaign is evident of what the MCA can do when its leaders put their hearts
into a particular project.

The feud in the MCA has been a fight over party and government positions –
nothing else. It is clear that the patience of Barisan elders is running thin
and the MCA leaders must resolve their differences now.

The Umno and MCA general assemblies would probably be the last before the next
general election.

It is unlikely that the polls would be held this year as the calendar of the
Prime Minister is packed until October, when the Organisation of Islamic
Conference (OIC) summit would be held in Kuala Lumpur.

Once Abdullah takes over the helm, he would have to seek a fresh mandate for
his leadership and a certain period of preparation would be needed before the
polls are called.

The opposition, too, has been busy getting ready for the general election. PAS
secretary-general Nasharuddin Mat Isa said the party, together with Parti
Keadilan Nasional and Parti Rakyat Malaysia which are in the process of
merging, had ''roughly agreed on which party will contest where.''

The DAP and Keadilan, according to reports, are also working on an
understanding to avoid clashing with each other, particularly in certain

The present parliamentary term ends in November next year but Barisan has the
option of managing a caretaker government for an additional six months before
it calls for the next general election, which will see additional seats in both
Parliament and state assemblies.

The Election Commission has drawn up new electoral boundaries, increasing the
number of seats in the Dewan Rakyat to 219 from 194, with a total of 505 state
assembly seats.