Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chewing on election numbers

THE latest salvo in the numbers game in Malaysian politics seems to be quite fascinating — the opposition parties are vying for all 222 parliamentary seats in the next general election, with Pas saying it is targetting to win at least 40 of them.

On top of that, it has been discovered that while most Malaysian Chinese are dissatisfied with the country’s economic policies, the vast majority of Malays feel the government is doing a great job.

Coming in the midst of talk that the elections are around the corner, the figures provide enough fodder for many quarters to chew on.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said last week that there would be a pact of sorts by the opposition with them agreeing that only one candidate will be chosen from among them to stand against Barisan Nasional in each constituency.

"No three-cornered fights. We want to ensure that there will only be one opposition candidate. That is our common stand," she said.

Two days later, Pas vice-president Datuk Husam Musa boldly predicted that his party could win at least 40 parliamentary seats, particularly those in Kelantan, Perak, Kedah and Perlis. For context, it must be remembered that the party won only seven in the last general election and 27 in 1999.

On their own, there’s not much significance in the above statements since they are part of the normal decibel tests in the middle of polls talk.

But pit them against the context of a recent survey by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research and the colour changes a little.

Among the findings of the survey are that Malaysian Chinese are highly dissatisfied with the country’s economic policies: While only 32 per cent of Chinese were satisfied with the government’s handling of the economy, an overwhelming 75 per cent of Malays thought Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s administration was doing a good job.

The first question then would be, if the vast majority of Malays are satisfied with the present administration, how could Pas possibly think of quadrupling or quintupling its seats?

The party is speculating that the elections would be called in November, so much so that its youth wing has been mobilised to focus all efforts in working towards a general election in three months, according to the party’s youth chief Salahuddin Ayub.

But at the same time, if Pas as the main opposition party is only restricting itself to winning about 40 seats, it doesn’t really say much for the opposition’s strength and its perpetual struggle to at least deny the BN its two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

The opposition must win at least 74 seats to achieve that milestone. And assuming Pas can win 40 seats, it would then be up to the DAP and PKR to deliver at least 34 more seats between them.

Looks tough, given the fact that PKR is up against a host of internal problems.

Therefore, a lot of pressure will inevitably fall on the DAP — not only to help fill the gap needed by the opposition to deny the BN the two-thirds, but also to capitalise on the dissatisfaction of the Chinese electorate as indicated by the Merdeka survey.

The DAP, which fared poorly the last time, is seen to be making a grand effort in putting up a more credible line-up by getting new talent which it believes can appeal to young, urban people.

And this, undeniably, will in turn pile even more pressure on the Chinese-based parties in the BN, namely MCA and Gerakan.

MCA, on its part, is also going all out to infuse new, "vibrant" blood in the party.

To add to that, perhaps is the pressure coming from within the coalition itself, the sort that we read in the newspapers two days ago where deputy Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, indirectly referring to MCA and Gerakan, said BN component parties could not regard lightly the findings of the Merdeka survey.

He said the parties should find the causes of Chinese resentment and provide the relevant explanation because, as he put it, "there is nothing that could not be explained".

He said he was not accusing the parties of not doing their part in explaining to the people the findings of the survey, but expressed hope that they would step up efforts since the general election was around the corner.

In this respect, however, some "well-connected" people insist, without elaborating, that the general election is not likely to be within the year since a few things in the government side have yet to be put into place.

But that’s not what it seems on the ground as the atmosphere is really hotting up, given the various political statements made during the ongoing Umno divisional meetings.

A senior Umno official, for instance, has come forward to suggest a consensus-seeking discourse among BN component parties to thrash out, in a closed-door family atmosphere, issues deemed sensitive.

Last week, practically all Umno and BN grassroots leaders converged in Kuantan for a meeting with the deputy prime minister.

And a simple, yet sure sign that the general election is within sight came unexpectedly on Saturday through a primary school principal.

Speaking at the closing of a co-curricular camp at her school in Subang Jaya, the teacher, in the presence of Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who is also Umno Youth chief, said: "I’m glad to inform everyone that this school has also been chosen as a polling centre for the coming election," to the amusement of everyone. (NST, 14/8/2007)


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