On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The guessing game goes on

ONE of the hottest topics on the sidelines of the Umno general assembly last week was the next general election. The consensus among the delegates was that it would be held soon. But how soon is soon is everybody’s guess. 

December has suddenly become a popular speculated month for the polls but it is unlikely to happen. It is the haj season, where at least 60,000 Malaysians are expected to head to Mecca to perform their pilgrimage. 

The first flight to the Holy Land is on Dec 1 and, for the following two weeks, they will join the millions of other Muslims there before Hari Raya Haji on Dec 20.  

It is an important event in the Muslim calendar and it is almost definite that the Government will not call a snap election. 

Analysts, including those who work in investment banks, who picked December have obviously not taken into account the haj season. 

It will be a busy month for many government officers, especially teachers and village community leaders, even as the private sector winds up for the year. 

It’s the monsoon season and all schools and community halls have been put on standby, not for election purposes, but for flood evacuees. 

Preparing for floods 

The Meteorological Department has already warned that over the next few months, Malaysians, especially those in the east coast states, can expect floods. 

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that 4,565 centres, which can house up to 1.2 million people, have been set up nationwide for the floods. 

Kelantan, Pahang, Selangor and Johor would have the most number of relief centres, he said, adding that “normally, there is heavier rainfall in the months of December and January”. 

The first week of December is also a busy time. Over 400,000 students will sit for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination at 3,913 centres from tomorrow until Dec 6. 

These schools are often used as polling centres but, with a wet season ahead, even the Malaysian Examination Board has warned candidates to watch out for changes to the schedules of the examination due to possible floods. 

There are also two important dates on the diary of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – he has to attend the Asean Summit in Singapore from Nov 19 to 21 before he flies to Uganda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting between Nov 23 and 25.  

The Prime Minister has already confirmed his attendance for these two meetings and there is no indication of any change of mind. For someone who wants to dissolve Parliament, as predicted by some, then he should not be going anywhere, even for a day or two; he would be fighting a big political battle at home. 

But preparations for the elections have surely started. Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin has given his movement until the end of December to open their elections’ operation centres. 

Only a few Umno state liaison committees have opened their operations centre, which indicate that there is still some time, thus the lack of urgency. 

But Malaysians can expect the tempo to pick up beginning January. It would be difficult to keep the dates further as there would be possible issues beyond the control of the Government. 

Global woes 

Many Malaysians, long pampered by the subsidies on petrol and diesel, are not aware that the rising cost of living is a global problem and not just confined to Malaysia. The Government had to spend RM35bil on oil and gas subsidies. This is a hefty chunk of the Government’s expenditure.  

Even in Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, the price of petrol keeps changing daily, something which many Malaysian motorists are unaware of. With global oil price heading towards US$100 a barrel, the social and political impact of the rising cost cannot be discounted, particularly possible creeping inflation. 

Last week, the Singapore Straits Times reported that the central bank projected inflation to rise by between 2% and 3% next year, saying there had been rising living costs for several months now due to the new GST rate of 7%, which took effect in July, with the food component of the consumer price index for September rising 3.7%. 

The New Paper reported that motorists using the Higher Electronic Road Pricing would have to pay more now, besides higher petrol prices and parking rates. 

March has continued to be a more practical date for many but the drum beat will get louder in the first few months of 2008, when the polls would likely be held.