On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Early polls on the cards?

Opening the Perlis MCA convention last week, party president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek told members to prepare for the next elections. He said it was “highly possible” that elections would be held next year to coincide with the launch of the 10th Malaysia Plan and the New Economic Model.

Dr Chua also told the gathering that the party had at most 18 months to prepare for the next general election.

So convinced is he of his prediction, the straight-talking politician said the MCA would hold a briefing at its headquarters for party leaders and members next week.

There are good reasons why many believe that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would want to call for a general election.

The two transformation plans would surely accelerate the momentum for public support in an election year as the people would be able to see a properly drawn-up programme to govern the country.

Based on surveys carried out by the Barisan Nasional, there are also good reasons to believe that there is a shift in Malay and Indian votes, with them going back to the ruling coalition.

Chinese votes, especially in the urban areas, have remained in anti-establishment mood and the challenge of the Barisan would be to convince these voters to change their sentiments.

These unhappy voters would be the biggest headache for the Barisan leaders in the delicate game of ethnic balancing.

If the Prime Minister is seen to be too accommodating to the interests of the Chinese, it could result in a political backlash, even within Umno, if the much needed Chinese votes are not secured.

There is every likelihood that in the Sarawak state election, the Barisan will win in all the bumiputra majority seats but not in the Chinese areas.

It is not wrong to say that for most sections of the Chinese community, Najib is hugely respected and admired. But the same cannot be said about his party.

It is often suggested that if there is a presidential election, Najib would win hands down but, unfortunately, ours is modelled upon the British electoral system.

Najib has continued to surge in the popularity surveys conducted by independent research houses, which put him in a comfortable position.

But he needs a mandate from a general election to push through his programmes. That is the reality any leader has to face.

In Malaysia, the Prime Minister’s job is much harder because he has to be the leader of all Malaysians, even if he is the head of a Malay-based party.

Competing forces, especially those who advocate the Malay agenda, have cast aspersions on the 1Malaysia concept.

Others, like Perkasa, have emerged to send the message that the other communities should know the limits of their demands. This mood is reflected in the Bahasa Malaysia newspapers and blogs.

Against this political backdrop, the Barisan, especially the MCA and Gerakan, has to work very hard to convince Chinese voters that they would lose their clout in government if the two parties continue to decline.

It is unlikely that the two parties would be able to keep the same number of positions in the next Cabinet if the Chinese voters conti­nue to shun the ruling coalition. That would be difficult for the PM to justify.

While the MCA still enjoys good standing in states like Johor, Perlis, Kedah and Pahang, Gerakan has the almost impossible task of dislodging the DAP in Penang.

In Selangor, the Barisan has gone on the offensive and finally acted as an opposition – by taking daily pot shots at the state government.

The Selangor Barisan is determined to wrest the state back from Pakatan Rakyat, which has a majority of 14 state assemblymen. The Barisan has 21 seats against Pakatan’s 35.

The leadership obviously needs to resolve several contentious issues before it can call for a general election.

The public must also be satisfied with the decisions taken on these issues so that they will not be raised again in the general election.

Malaysians also need to feel that the Government has successfully carried out its various programmes before the polls. Statistics alone would not be enough.

Cases of snatch theft have dropped drastically for sure, but Malaysians cannot expect the country to be free of crime. Crime cannot be eradicated but can be reduced and even managed.

There is another reason why some think that Najib would call the general election in 2011: eleven is his lucky number.

His house address is 11, Jalan Langgak Duta; his father, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, was born on March 11; his mother Tun Rahah Mohd Nooh on June 11; and one of Najib’s sons was born on May 11.