On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Into the second half of the fray

WE have now entered the second half of the fight. The general election is exactly seven days from now and Malaysians can expect the battle for the hearts and minds by our politicians to be tougher, if not, dirtier. 

The battlegrounds are in Penang, Terengganu and Kelantan, where the hardest campaigns are being fought. 

There is no place for slip-ups as the contest in the 2008 general election enters into the most crucial period. 

In Penang, the Barisan Nasional, especially the MCA and Gerakan, is taking on one of its fiercest fights against the opposition led by the DAP.  

The DAP is on the offensive by fielding its top guns in the state. Riding on the anti-establishment sentiments of the predominantly Chinese areas, the DAP has attracted large crowds to their ceramah but whether this would be translated into votes would be another thing. 

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, with much help from de facto opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is heading the battle here. 

But Barisan top guns, including Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, are also taking them head-on, well aware of the stakes at hand. 

MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy, who is not seeking re-election, will spend the next few days entirely on the Penang campaign. 

While no one expects the state to fall into opposition, the Barisan also does not want to lose its two-thirds majority. 

Learning from the past when Penangites rejected the DAP for attempting to wrest the state from the Barisan, the opposition has stopped talking of coming into power but they certainly hope that Penangites would go overboard by tilting the power structure. 

The DAP has cleverly played to the emotions of Penang voters by hammering away at Umno and even ignoring traditionally hot issues like Chinese schools because the federal government has announced huge pre-polls allocations, which is the effort of the MCA. 

Still harping on the keris issue, they hope to sway the Chinese voters. But any political adventure by the Chinese voters could end up with the Chinese power within the system eroded.  

The Malay votes, on the other hand, are likely to be solidly behind Umno. 

So, instead of wanting to punish Umno for the statements by one or two leaders, the community could end up punishing political parties representing their interests in government. 

The same predicament is faced by the MCA and Gerakan in Perak, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, where the same fights are being fought. 

Like the Indian population, which stands at 1.6 million, the Chinese community is also shrinking and it now stands at around six million of the 25 million population in Malaysia.  

In Kelantan, the state is another battleground, where PAS has found its power being chipped away strongly by Umno. Although the Islamist party still has its grip on the state, reports says that the Barisan is not far behind in the race. 

The Barisan is turning its guns to 14 PAS state seats that were won by a majority of less than 10% in 2004 while it is confident of retaining its 13 seats. 

Both sides are racing against time to woo Kelantanese voters who work in other states to return home to vote on March 8. 

The Barisan has even named a Mentri Besar designate, Datuk Awang Adek Husin, to show its seriousness. 

In Terengganu, the fight between PAS and Umno has continued with PAS hoping to end the five-year rule by Barisan. 

But after having tasted the development brought by Barisan, the voters may not want the state to return to the opposition which ruled it for 18 years. 

The Barisan has transformed the once sleepy fishing state into an international arena, where world-class events are being held. 

The state is now led by a more dynamic leadership under Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, a former corporate figure, who is being challenged by the turbaned Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who is known for his religious ultra-conservatism. 

Over the next one week, it could well be the longest period for these contenders. In past elections, the campaigning period would have ended by now but this time around, we are just entering the second half.