On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

It all boils down to Abdullah and his agenda

"I will be issuing a statement and I will leave it to the
Election Commission to decide on the nomination and polling dates," he said,
sensing the air of relief in the room.

There would be no press conference, as had been previously done, but he would
instead meet the press today after the Umno and Barisan Nasional supreme
council meetings at the Putra World Trade Centre.

As the Cabinet meeting continued, press aides began informing newspaper offices
of the decision to dissolve Parliament.

Many ministers, when contacted later, said they were relieved that Abdullah had
announced the dissolution, as they had "half-expected" the decision yesterday
with talk that Parliament would be dissolved by this weekend, before Parliament
meets on Monday.

The past few days had been stressful for most of the ministers, who comprise
many Barisan heads, as they met Abdullah separately to discuss the allocation
of seats.

Many had also started campaigning over the past month in anticipation of the
polls but there is nothing like the dissolution of Parliament to put things in

Now, the competing parties would wait for the Election Commission to fix the
two important dates as they hurriedly add the final touches to their election
manifestoes and campaign strategies.

However, the parties are only expected to name their candidates very close to
nomination day and in some cases, no announcements would be made.

The Barisan is sending out this message to the voters this time: if you had
voted for the opposition in the 1999 elections because you were angry with the
Government, then you must vote for the Barisan this time if you agree with what
Abdullah is doing.

It has come down to a referendum for Abdullah and his agenda, particularly
against corruption and to ensure accountability, credibility and integrity in

Against the background of a robust economy, bullish stock market and optimism
about the future, voters will be asked whether they approve of the plans of the
new Prime Minister.

A strong mandate is necessary to send the message to critics of Abdullah that
the people are solidly behind him and they want him to continue with his
pledges. In short, he is not alone. We will work with him.

With the young voters, said to make up over half the electorate, in mind, the
drafters of the Barisan manifesto are making sure that it will be catchy. One
theme being considered is Aman, Amanah, Berjaya Bersama. The abbreviation is
AAB – or Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

On his campaign trail, which will kick off at his Kepala Batas home, Abdullah
is likely to travel around the country emphasising the point that Barisan is a
party for all Malaysians.

One point being used by campaigners is that although there are 26 new
parliamentary seats, Umno has only taken 10. Many areas with a high number of
Malay voters have been given to component parties in the spirit of

Despite the positive factors, it won't be an easy ride for the Barisan. Unable
to find fault with Abdullah, PAS has served notice that it will target his son,
Kamaluddin, for being a shareholder of Scomi Precision Engineering Sdn Bhd in
the alleged production of components for Libya's uranium enrichment programme.
The police have cleared the company of any wrongdoing.

The stakes are high, especially in the Malay heartland, with the Islamist party
saying it wants to capture Kedah now, after having secured Kelantan and Terengganu.
Its ally, Parti Keadilan Nasional, also wants a share in Kedah.

With Abdullah's impeccable Islamic credentials, PAS will find it harder to
attack him from the religious angle although it will still try to convince its
supporters that Umno is unacceptable as far as religion is concerned.

Without doubt, Abdullah is Barisan's biggest draw card and it won't come as a
surprise if voters see more posters of him than those of the candidates when
the campaigning starts.

As the Cabinet members started leaving when the meeting ended yesterday,
Abdullah stopped them for a simple reminder: "Please forget about protocol and
listen to the people on the ground."

That is classic Abdullah.