On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

GE13: Unexpected backlash

But some of his ministers are saying the dissolution of Parliament would take place, as speculated, and that the Wednesday meeting Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak alluded to would be a meeting of the caretaker Cabinet.

In short, until now, the Prime Minister has not given the slightest clue as to when he will call for polls, which would start with having an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to seek the dissolution of the Dewan Rakyat.

On Wednesday, the ministers had expected Najib to give some indication that their meeting last week would be the last.

But there was none. Instead, the top civil servants of the respective ministries were also told to go back to their offices for their post-Cabinet briefings and to announce there would be another Cabinet meeting this week.

A minister cheekily told the PM that the “foreplay to the elections” is taking too long and those listening in broke out in laughter.

In 2008, the then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his Cabinet had their group photograph taken on Jan 30, 2008, two weeks before dissolution.

On Feb 13, Parliament was dissolved and the announcement was made at a press con­ference, called by Pak Lah and Najib, at 12.45pm.

In the case of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he preferred the group photograph to be taken at the start of a new term rather than at the last Cabinet meeting.

Not only has Najib not given any clue to his Cabinet, Barisan Nasional component heads, Umno election strategists and the media, he has also got everyone to make the wrong guesses as far as dates are concerned.

He has apparently told Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that he would be attending the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition from March 26 to March 30 as the PM and not as caretaker leader.

Then there is March 29, which is Good Friday, one of the most important dates for Christians. Good Friday is the day which Christians commemorate the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, the act of salvation to all who believe.

It will be followed by Easter Sunday on March 31, where Christians mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Come April 4, the Chinese will mark Qing Ming or Cheng Beng, or All Souls’ Day, where Taoists will clean the graveyards of their departed family members as a day of remembrance.

The PM has been reminded at previous Barisan supreme council meetings about the importance of these dates.

The press had also reported that his pre-election nationwide tour stop in Kuantan last night was the last stop before dissolution.

Over the past 48 hours, aides of the PM seemed divided in their speculation over when their boss would seek the dissolution of Parliament, having combed his schedule over the next few days for possible clues.

The aides are still sticking to their prediction that tomorrow is the day, failing which it will still be in the next few days.

The March 25 date is favoured by the media simply because the Negri Sembilan state assembly’s five-year term ends the following day. The PM, on his part, has never indicated he would want to call for dissolution on that day, nor is he required to do so.

The candidates’ list for the Barisan has more or less been resolved and, except for some swapping of seats, those selected are already at kick-off mode.

When the PM found time to have afternoon tea with some editors recently, he appeared relaxed and, more importantly, confident of the looming elections ahead.

Figures from the various intelligence surveys have been rolling in, and they show that the Barisan will still be in power after the polls.

The Malay votes, especially in the rural heartland of the 222 parliamentary seats, have remained strong while the Indian votes, which went to the opposition in 2008, have returned comfortably to the Barisan fold.

Chinese voters, however, remain difficult with the majority supporting the DAP in the 45 Chinese-majority seats.

The problem is that even if the Barisan retains power at the federal level and most of the states, the governments would be dominated by the Malays if the Chinese candidates of the Barisan do not do well. In fact, the Chinese would end up sitting on the opposition benches, as in Sarawak.

There are already growing concerns that the Chinese voters, in wanting to punish the Barisan, will end up voting themselves out of a direct say in the federal government. Their belief in Pakatan Rakyat winning Putrajaya will just remain an elusive dream.

Even the leaders of the DAP do not show any confidence that this would happen, as most of them continue to hedge their bets by contesting both federal and state seats.

Analysts have already looked at the possible impact on race relations when such a scenario emerges. In Penang, while the Chinese dominates the island, the Malay Barisan opposition holds its grip on the mainland as race relations worsen.

But time is running out. Choices have to be made soon and the outcome of the votes will have a deep impact for the next five years, or even more.