On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Will polls only be next year?

The victories at Galas and Batu Sapi have certainly been a morale booster and it is likely that the Barisan will retain the Tenang state seat in Johor. In Galas and Batu Sapi, the Barisan held on tightly to the Malay votes but the sweetener was the return of Chinese votes.

In Galas, the Chinese turned their backs to PAS and the Barisan won in all the Chinese areas, which was a major turn of events.

The assessment is that the Indians are also returning to the Barisan, which would be crucial in a tight race. In Hulu Selangor, a substantial amount of votes went to P. Kamala nathan, which helped him to beat ex-PKR stalwart Zaid Ibrahim convincingly with a 1,725 vote majority.

On the opposition front, the much reported feud among PKR leaders has certainly bled the party. The problem does not seem to be ending yet, what with the party now having to grapple with rebel Padang Serai MP Gobalakhrishnan.

He has been given a show cause letter but he has refused to quit, which makes him a thorn in the party with his daily criticism of the leadership.

In Sabah, where the PKR has depended on Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, with the leadership even appointing him a vice-president, the foray has been disastrous.

Kitingan is known to be a party-hopper with poor credentials. Either the PKR leaders did not notice this right from the beginning, or they had little choice with their limited grip on Sabah politics and had to rely on him.

Kitingan has announced his plans to set up a new party and is likely to get more PKR leaders and members to shut down their branches, none of which would be good publicity for the party.

Without Sabah and Sarawak, the road to Putrajaya is beyond the reach of Pakatan Rakyat. Out of the 222 parliamentary seats, the Barisan holds 29 out of the 31 seats in Sarawak, while the DAP has two seats. In Sabah, the Barisan holds 22 parliamentary seats, SAPP two and the DAP one.

Except for the DAP, which has performed well in Sarawak’s predominantly Chinese urban areas, there has been zero impact from PAS or the PKR.

The Sarawak state election must be held by July but the prediction is that polls could be called by June after the important Gawai celebrations. There are 71 seats up for grabs with only eight held by the opposition.

It is likely that the Prime Minister will kick off his nationwide visits with Sarawak, possibly during the Chinese New Year period.

Despite talk of a simultaneous Sarawak general election, it is more wishful thinking on the part of some Sarawak politicians. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would prefer to use Sarawak as a barometer and even as a Barisan morale booster.

Losses in urban areas are expected with Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud being an issue among the voters while the Sarawak United People’s Party is struggling to win back the Chinese votes.

But campaigning in Sarawak, where most areas are rural, is about the control of logistics, namely helicopters, boats and four-wheel drive vehicles. Forget blogging and rabble-rousing speeches in these isolated areas, some of which are bigger in size than some states in the peninsula.

There are also several foreign engagements that Najib has committed to and while they can be cancelled, the likelihood is that these trips would proceed.

It is also most likely that the PM would prefer to let the public see and feel the impact of his numerous economic transformation programmes. Many of the huge projects, especially public transport systems, would need to be launched first to emphasise the point that the Barisan has a real economic and administration plan.

The only possible window period, if elections are to be held this year, would be around August and September. The monsoon season would have started in October, which would make campaigning difficult in the east coast states.

We can safely write off November and December, as most Malaysians would be clearing their leave. These would include the civil servants and police whose presence is necessary to ensure that elections are carried out smoothly.

It would be a long-drawn campaign this year because no one wants to be caught unprepared. It will be a test of political stamina and resources.