On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Die is cast for real deal in 2011

In Batu Sapi, young voters threw their backing behind the Barisan candidate who had to face Datuk Yong Teck Lee, the Sabah Progressive Party chief and PKR, which saw Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim leading the campaign. In both areas, the swing of the young voters towards the Barisan was between an estimated five and eight percent.

There are plenty of reasons for Barisan and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak – who had to stay away from the campaign because he was down with chicken pox – to celebrate.

But Barisan is mistaken if it thinks it is time to call for a general election. Barisan is not ready for the big fight.

Batu Sapi and Galas are semi-rural constituencies, where low key campaigning may help bring votes but the situation may not be the same in urban constituencies. Pakatan still has an edge when it comes to ceramah and dinner gatherings, which it has been conducting almost weekly.

In Selangor, Penang, Perak and Johor, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s house-to-house approach would have been impossible, given the size of the electorate.

In the voters’ registration exercise, Pakatan has worked much harder to make sure its potential supporters sign up. In cyberspace, they are way ahead of Barisan. Some online portals, openly financed by PKR personalities, have launched attacks against Barisan.

Since the 2008 polls, Pakatan has won eight of the 13 by-elections, which is an impressive achievement. The Batu Sapi and Galas results may have put a stop to the momentum but on the ground, there is still resentment against Barisan in many parts of the country.

The biggest mistake for Umno would be to assume that the two victories are the effective result of the party playing the Malay agenda. Arrogant statements by low level Umno leaders such as those declaring they do not need Chinese and Indian votes are politically fatal errors.

Najib has worked hard to win over the Chinese votes, with reassuring statements that the Chinese have played their role in the country’s economic development and without whose support, the country’s future would be bleak.

His economic plans to transform the country have made the community sit up although many still want to see tangible results, beyond abbreviations and paper visions. But the point is that development issues are relevant.

At the end of the day, politics is about the economy. It is about putting bread and butter on the table, as the United States mid-term elections have shown. Change is good if a politician can make sure he can change, with a bigger slice of cake on the table for the people.

In comparison, Pakatan may have gone too far ahead. Talk of marching to Putrajaya without telling Malaysians how they intend to govern the country could have backfired.

While Malaysians know Najib would be PM if Barisan is still in charge after the next poll, they are left guessing as to whether it will be PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang or PKR advisor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim if Pakatan takes over.

Obviously, the choice of the Pakatan leader helming the federal government is a serious matter as it would have serious consequences on the shape of things to come.

The open in-fighting in PKR’s internal polls have also harmed the party as its inability to run its own polls has cast a shadow on its ability to govern. Even its allies – PAS and DAP – would not venture into direct membership polls because it is not practical. Pakatan, in short, has not got its act together.

Much of rural Malaysia, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, are still accessible only to Barisan, with its strong local organisational structure. The coalition controls the logistics and transport network, without which, Pakatan can only dream of entering.

Pakatan has no local component party. Without home grown leaders in these two states, it would still be a long way before it can wrest the states.

DAP has done better in these two states because it has a strong foundation, with past leaders like Sim Kwang Yang and Fung Ket Wing. It would certainly pose a serious threat to the Sarawak United People’s Party, which has had it easy in past elections.

The perception is that the SUPP is still struggling to face the DAP.

It does not help that Sarawak Barisan parties are still heavily represented by old leaders who are perceived to be reluctant to pass the baton to younger leaders.

But even the most die-hard Pakatan supporters would grudgingly acknowledge that these veterans, especially Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, can still deliver the votes, except perhaps in urban constituencies.

Still, the old ways of doing things would have to make way for fresh approaches for the good of Sarawakians in the long term.

The new year is just a little more than a month away. Expect serious preparations for the general election to kick off soon, starting with Najib’s nationwide tours.

The next warm up contest could be in March when the Sarawak polls are called.

On the economic front, talk is that a stock market rally is expected over the next six months, which would help in the multiplier effect. Watch the counters! An exciting 2011 is certainly shaping up on the political and economic fronts for Malaysians for sure.