On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Parties in high gear as polls fever rises

He also ordered the state liaison committees to activate
their election machinery to involve members at every level.

But Abdullah has said he will visit Teheran from Feb 18 for a conference on aid
for developing countries. Then there is the Group of 15 summit in Caracas,
Venezuela, from Feb 25 to 29.

He has gone on record to say that he would attend both meetings but also said
trips could be postponed for all kinds of reasons. He is also scheduled to
visit Sabah on March 2.

The consensus among Barisan and opposition leaders is that the polls are near –
and they predicted Parliament could be dissolved by early or mid-March.

Most Members of Parliament have questioned the necessity for Dewan Rakyat to
meet from March 8 to April 12, saying their minds would not be on the debates.
They would rather spend time campaigning in their respective

The government bench also does not want to trade verbal blows with the
opposition for an entire month at the Dewan, particularly when the latter would
seize every opportunity to raise all kinds of controversial issues, including
potentially embarrassing ones.

More significantly, the five-year term of the Sabah Government will end after
April 12. If state elections are not called by then, the assembly will
automatically dissolve and elections have to be called within the next 60

Barisan leaders are in favour of holding the Sabah elections simultaneously
with the rest of the country, saying it would be a costly affair to have
separate polls.

In the 1999 general election, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad called for elections when
the Dewan Rakyat was in session – the first time in the country's

Various dates have been thrown up in the guessing game, with most believing
that polling will be held either at the end of March or early April. The
general consensus that Barisan will capitalise on the "feel good" sentiment
prevailing among voters.

Not wanting to be caught off-guard, the opposition is also in full swing, with
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang announcing the party's manifesto in
Kedah last week.

PAS and Parti Keadilan Nasional, which have made Kedah their frontline state,
have announced their allocation of state and parliamentary seats in the state.
Keadilan vice-president Tian Chua and supreme council member Irene Fernandez
are both contesting in Kedah.

Malacca-born Tian Chua contested against MCA vice-president Datuk Dr Fong Chan
Onn in Selandar in the 1999 polls. The Human Resources Minister won with a
thumping 10,447-vote majority.

This time, it is speculated that he will contest against MCA central committee
member Datuk Chor Chee Heung, who is the Deputy Home Minister, in Alor Star.
Chor won with a 14,589-vote majority against DAP's George John then.

Fernandez, a social activist who campaigns for the rights of migrant workers,
is making her debut in this general election. Talk is that she will try her
luck in Padang Serai, held by Christina Lim Bee Kau who won with a 9,372-vote
majority against Keadilan's Saifuddin Nasution.

While it is clear that DAP chairman Lim Kit Siang and his deputy Karpal Singh
will be contesting, no one is sure which constituency Lim will pick. Karpal
Singh is likely to remain in Penang.

In 1999, Lim lost to Gerakan secretary-general Chia Kwang Chye by 104 votes in
Bukit Bendera while Karpal lost to Gerakan's Lee Kah Choon by 775 votes.

At state level, Lim lost to Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan at Kebun Bunga (3,708-vote
majority) and in Datuk Kramat, lawyer Lim Boo Chang of MCA defeated Karpal
Singh by 3,148 votes. His son, Jagdeep Singh, lost to Datuk Koay Kah Huah at
the Bukit Glugor state seat by 4,017 votes.

The spotlight this time will also be on Kelantan and Terengganu where Barisan
is trying to make an impact. Barisan leaders seem optimistic about Terengganu
but most analysts do not think the coalition will be able to win back Kelantan
where Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat has a strong grip.

Umno campaigners are counting on Abdullah to make the difference in the rural
heartland. With his Islamic credentials and his Mr Clean image, many opposition
activists are worried.

His common touch and his widely publicised crusade against corruption have
endeared him with padi farmers and fishermen, who welcome his decision to make
agriculture a priority in his agenda.

Over the next few weeks, we can be sure that election fever will be felt as
Barisan and the opposition shift into high gear in the run-up to the 2004
general election.