Election fever running high in Malaysia

By Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief (Straits Times Singapore)
Jan 7, 2008
KUALA LUMPUR – SPECULATION over Malaysia’s impending general election stepped up a notch yesterday when the election chief reiterated that the polls are just ‘around the corner’.

All police officers and personnel have had their leave periods frozen indefinitely, further fuelling the speculation.
‘We have several reasons for doing so, the main reason being that we need to have dry runs. There are many things that we need to do when the elections are called,’ police chief Musa Hassan was quoted as saying by The Sunday Star yesterday.
The Election Commission, which oversees the running of elections, is also gearing up for the polls, chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said in an interview with the newspaper, the weekend edition of The Star, the biggest English daily.
‘When I say the election is around the corner, you better believe me because it is not a joke. It is definitely not a joke. You don’t joke about these things,’ he said.
This is the second time in recent weeks that he has hinted that elections are close.
As well, Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) vice-president Fong Chan Onn confirmed yesterday that the party’s election machinery has been asked to gear up.
The impending election – the second for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi – has been anticipated for a long time.
His mandate does not end until mid-2009, but the speculation is that the polls will be held sooner rather than later because of the uncertain global economic outlook, among other factors.
While the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is expected to romp to victory, it is unlikely to repeat its spectacular performance of 2004 when Datuk Seri Abdullah had just taken office.
The election will be closely watched because it will be seen as a reflection of Malaysia’s race relations, which are increasingly strained.
The Sunday Star’s front- page report yesterday feeds into growing speculation among opposition and ruling party politicians that the polls will be held within a couple of months.
The conventional thinking is a date in March, just before the legal ban on former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim’s eligibility to stand as an electoral candidate expires in April. He is under a five-year ban on standing in elections due to a conviction over a corruption charge.
Datuk Seri Abdullah has not given any hint, but pundits are reading signals in the heightened grassroots preparations and the slew of announcements like a new body to investigate police misconduct.
An official of the MCA told The Straits Times that the party is already preparing for an early election.
The opposition is doing the same. Mr Tony Pua, who will stand as candidate for the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), said everyone seemed to be anticipating an election very soon.
He told The Straits Times that the DAP recently found flags and banners flying in three Selangor state constituencies, which suggest heightened political readiness.
The government’s recent tabling in Parliament of a Bill to set up a body to investigate police misconduct also sparked further speculation as this was among the promises made at the 2004 election.
Last week, MCA president Ong Ka Ting announced a RM10 million (S$4.4 million) government allocation for Chinese schools, seen as a move to placate Chinese voters who have been angered by their perception of the government’s stronger Malay agenda.
Government leaders have said they are convinced that the majority of voters are still behind them, despite facing problems over the spiralling cost of living, fear of crime, and increasingly strained race relations.