On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

All set to move into higher gear

THE Cabinet meeting was held on Tuesday last week instead of the customary Wednesday. At the same time, Members of Parliament were wishing each other farewell, believing it would be the last time they would meet before the next general election. 

For the ministers, many wanted to clear their work before the Hari Raya Haji celebrations while some had taken leave. 

One minister took his family to Europe for a week, telling MPs that he would be busy campaigning once he is back.  

For some, they have already hit the campaign trail, taking advantage of the holiday season to meet their supporters and constituents. 

Others wanted to register their presence at flood-hit areas and have even cancelled their vacations. 

There are already enough signals – the general election is likely to be held in the next two or even three months. 

The Bersih and Hindraf protests, which led to the use of the Internal Security Act, may have its impact on urban votes but are unlikely to drastically affect the leadership’s showing in the elections. 

According to some, the Hindraf issue may have even strengthened Umno, particularly among the electorate in the Malay heartland. 

Some survey findings show that these Malay voters were unhappy with the demonstrations, particularly the appeals to Queen Elizabeth II, and are supportive of the ISA against the leaders. 

At a recent meeting of Umno grassroots leaders in Kuala Lumpur, some even questioned why the Government had not used the ISA earlier. 

PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang had to issue a late statement to condemn the Hindraf demonstrators, apparently after the Islamist party found out that it had misread the political mood among the Malay voters. 

PAS leaders also refused to condemn the demolition of an illegal Indian temple, just before Deepavali, which was a core issue of Hindraf, as it would be at odds with the Islamist cause pursued by the party. 

With the majority of parliamentary and state seats in rural and semi-urban areas, the Umno leadership must have done their homework. 

As for the urban areas, with predominantly Chinese voters, the MCA and Gerakan would have to work harder as anti-establishment sentiments are still strong, particularly in Penang and Perak. 

In the Klang Valley, the demography has changed over the past years.  

There are now sharp increases in Malay urban voters and in some constituencies, the Malays have formed the majority in Kuala Lumpur. 

The Chinese and Indian votes would be crucial for Umno candidates in these areas and the party should also not take for granted these Malay voters whose social consciousness and world view are not necessarily those of Umno. 

Luckily for Umno, most of these Malay urbanites do not support PAS while some find that PKR lacks credibility; but if these Malay voters stay away, it may affect the percentage of votes.  

The Indians may not have a single majority seat but their votes would still have an impact in many seats in Perak and Negri Sembilan. 

A recent survey showed that the Hindraf issue generated interest among all races but in the case of Bersih, it appealed mostly to Malay respondents, presumably because it involved PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat elements.  

The Bersih rally generated little interest among Chinese and Indian respondents while a huge number did not even know the march took place. 

The bets are on the elections at the end of February, after the Chinese New Year celebrations, and early March. 

To hold back the elections because of the Hindraf and Bersih rallies make little political sense because the impact of price hikes would be more politically damaging as it would cut across all races. 

Analysts should not just talk to urban voters and bloggers to have a better reading of the political mood as the issues and needs differ. 

Rural voters, especially smallholders, are reasonably happy with the Government as the prices of commodities, especially rubber and palm oil, have been strong. 

It will be a short Christmas for many as preparations have began for the next general election.  

Correction, the coming general election.