On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Some way to go before the polls

No political party, whether Barisan Nasional or the Opposition, can confidently claim they are in a position to go to the polls now. As far as most political analysts know, only preliminary preparations have been conducted. 

In some parties, several new faces have been identified to contest in certain constituencies while some veterans have been told, through third parties, that they could be dropped. 

Last week, the Election Commission said it would only be ready to conduct the general election after September. Its chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said the Government had asked the commission when it would be ready but did not indicate when the election would be called. 

He added that by the end of September, the EC would have trained 200,000 election workers and procured all the equipment needed for the polls, including see-through ballot boxes and special punchers to be distributed to the country’s 25,000 polling districts. 

Rashid also said the EC had budgeted RM220mil for the general election but might have to ask for RM100mil more for the new equipment. 

Most analysts have ruled out the holding of elections this year because, over the next few months, the national leaders would have their hands full. 

Preparations for next month’s 50th National Day are peaking. Celebrations have been planned nation-wide for a month, which would certainly have an impact on the “feel-good” factor, which is essential in the run-up to the polls. 

In fact, on July 30 and 31, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is expected to announce a slew of projects in Kedah, Perlis, Penang and Perak as part of the Northern Corridor Economic Region project. 

From modern agricultural practices involving harvesting padi three times a year to the construction of Penang’s second bridge, the projects are expected to fire up voters in these four states. 

For sure, it would put a serious dent on Parti Keadilan Rakyat-DAP plans to capture Penang this time. 

Despite the seemingly anti-establishment sentiments among urban voters at this point, the predominantly middle-class Penangites have always been more concerned with bread-and-butter issues. 

Barisan campaigners are so confident in the mood swing that many want to take on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the polls. 

The bridge, together with plans to turn Penang into a regional transportation hub, will surely bring spillover benefits to the various sectors. In short, Penangites can look forward to a better standard of living over the coming years. 

Abdullah and his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak have a tight schedule ahead of them in September. The Budget, which many expect will be “an election budget”, is to be tabled in Parliament on Sept 7. 

Abdullah is scheduled to fly off to Sydney the next day for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Then he has to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York in the third week of September, which is during the fasting month. 

We can rule out the possibility of the elections being held during the fasting month or Hari Raya (Oct 13-14). 

The feel-good factor is expected to continue with the likelihood of more national celebrations – the first Malaysian would be in space by then. 

By November, Abdullah has two important dates on his diary. First is the Asean Summit in Singapore, where his presence is regarded as crucial, as the Asean leaders deliberate over adopting the Asean Charter. 

Equally important for Pak Lah is the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda, to be held around the same time as Malaysia lobbies for the election of Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim to be the secretary-general, which would make him the first Malaysian to hold the post. 

At home, the two-month school holidays would have started and the monsoon season would have set in by then in the east coast. 

But by November and December, the drumbeat for the elections will become louder. Politicians can forget about taking a long break with their families at this time because election preparations would be in full swing. 

For the Chinese, the year 2008 is a prosperous year. In Cantonese, 2008 rhymes with “yee teng teng fatt” or “sure to prosper”. Perhaps it’s also a good time for elections.