“It does look like 2012 will be election year. The problem is that 2012 is also when the world will end, according to Nostradamus.”

INSIGHT: By JOCELINE TAN

There is much talk of a November election but Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak does not seem to be in a hurry now that he has raised the game and is starting to own the political space.

THE most-asked question among political circles these days has to be: When is the general election?

But the thing is that almost every politician, including those asking the most-asked question, has an opinion about when the general election will be. The oft-cited date is November presumably because that is about when the school holidays will start.

November is also a favourite of Pakatan Rakyat politicians many of whom had predicted the election would be in June, also a school holidays month. Since that did not happen, they have moved on to November.

The Pakatan politicians do seem to spend quite a lot of time trying to read the Prime Minister’s mind; let’s just say that they have not been very good at it or else the general election would have been over and done with by now.

And, if the Umno insiders are right, November will come and go without an election. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, according to them, is in for the long haul and some of them even suggest that it could be as late as 2013.

“Give us one good reason why he should be in a hurry? Because the opposition wants it early? The way we see it, the PM can still afford to wait,” said Lanchang assemblyman Datuk Sharkar Shamsuddin.

Besides, Najib is scheduled to perform the Haj in November after which he will be in Honolulu for the Apec Summit on Nov 12 and 13. He also has several overseas appointments in October. He will be in Perth for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting or Chogm and there are also official trips to Naning and Lombok.

At the end of all that, he will be back home to focus on the Umno general assembly which will take place from Nov 29 to Dec 3.

The schedule hardly points to a November election and everyone has written off December as a possible date because of the monsoons.

But PJ Utara MP Tony Pua told reporters last week that he was “absolutely sure” Najib would call for the election within the next six months. Pua is one of the brightest stars in DAP but it will just be a few more months before he is proven absolutely right, or absolutely wrong.

When Najib stepped into the Prime Minister’s office in April 2009, the assumption was that he would do the same as his predecessors who had taken over in mid-term, that is, call for a snap election.

Instead, he has confounded everyone. He has used his borrowed mandate to, first, tackle the economy and to put Umno in order. It was only this year that he began to focus on the political side and that could explain why his opponents are now feeling the heat.

The opposition bench has never been this big or ferocious and they have thrown just about everything and anything at him, from Scorpene submarines to a murdered Mongolian woman. He has not had an easy time but he has stayed focused about what he has to do and has gone about it in a methodical manner.

“He has been through eight general elections. He knows what it’s all about, that you cannot look at only two or three factors. There is a momentum now but he wants to win handsomely and he has to look at the whole picture,” said Sharkar who is also a Pahang state exco member.

Or as Kelantan Opposition Leader Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad put it, Najib means to go into the next general election with a sound report card to show people why his coalition deserves to be in Putrajaya.

“By the time he faces the voters, he will be able to show them what he has done. We are not like PAS in Kelantan, 20 years in power and still blaming Umno for everything,” said Alwi.

He said the blame game was a lagu rancak (upbeat song) in the beginning but that “after 20 years, it’s not a hit song anymore, people are tired of listening to it”.

Some have suggested that Pakatan is the one anxious for an early polls, especially after the Bersih protests. They wanted to capitalise on the public sentiment which was critical of the way the authorities handled the protests.

Pakatan had floundered after losing five straight by-elections but the Bersih rally helped it regain some momentum. Moreover, many in Pakatan were hoping to exercise the option of holding back the state polls if the general election is called early. That way, they need not stretch their limited resources.

Then the London riots erupted and, all of a sudden, the uncompromising methods of the Malaysian police did not look so bad compared to the laid-back style of the British cops who were criticised for not acting firmly and swiftly.

Malaysian politics has resembled a rollercoaster in the last few years. One side may be up today but down the next month and Pakatan is once again struggling to scramble back after the controversy over the Bukit Kepong and the Jalur Gemilang issues.

PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu’s remarks defending the communist attackers of Bukit Kepong has cost Pakatan votes, especially among the security forces while DAP politician M. Manoharan does not seem to understand that the national flag is a symbol of the nation; it is not associated with any political party.

These and the fallout over the hudud issue mean that Pakatan may be less keen about having to go to the polls this year.

Among the factors that Najib has to consider before he is ready to go back to the people is the Chinese vote which caused states like Selangor, Perak and Penang to fall in 2008.

Najib’s goal is to regain the Barisan’s two-thirds majority in Parliament and recapture the states lost. To do that, he needs to regain the Chinese ground. He is not giving up on the Chinese despite all the talk that they have made up their minds and he is going after every Chinese vote he can get.

Chinese issues

“The economy is important for everyone, including Chinese businessmen, but the No. 1 thing for many Chinese is still education and Chinese schools. As such, the Prime Minister cycling in Penang in a fund­raiser for Chinese schools is very significant. It shows the top leader’s sincerity and commitment to the cause,” said Dr Chin Yew Seng, head of the Oriental Strategy Research Centre.

Likewise, said Dr Chin, the Community Chest or welfare fund for vernacular and mission schools launched last week is a major move towards the development needs of these schools. Development funds have always been a problem for Chinese schools especially the private ones. Each time they want to expand or add facilities like a classroom or a hall, they have to go around looking for funds. The RM100mil per annum initiative, funded by some of the leading tycoons in the country, is now their source of funds for development purposes.

Najib is systematically tackling the Chinese heart and mind.

Moreover, there has been a game-changer of sorts for him after his Malaysia Day announcement to repeal the Internal Security Act and several other security-related laws.

The Pakatan people were worried when he came into office because they could see he was a different political creature from his predecessor. They were right to be worried because Najib has raised the game.

Today, he will attend the MCA general assembly where he is expected to send a concerted message to the Chinese on why they should support the Barisan.

The Prime Minister, said political analyst Rita Sim, is being very strategic about the Chinese ground.

The Chinese vote will always be split just as the Malay votes have been divided between Umno and PAS. But there are some 26 Parliamentary seats where Chinese make up 35-65% of the voters and which were won by majorities ranging between 1% and 15%. Seven of these seats were won by the Barisan and the remaining 19 by Pakatan parties. Najib would want to defend the marginal seats that he has and win those now held by the other side.

“There is a lot at stake on both sides. He knows that every effort made towards the Chinese will have a marginal effect that, when added up, can stop the slide in some seats and make a real difference in others,” said Sim.

The current Parliament reached its three-year mandate on April 28 after which a by-election is no longer necessary in the event of a vacancy.

At the state level, the cut-off point was May 20. Politicians often describe the period after this as going into election mode and a general election held after this would no longer be seen as a snap election.

Some Pakatan politicians had demanded that the Prime Minister consult them before calling for elections, an idea that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad clearly found ludicrous. After all, he had called five elections in his time without giving anyone, including his wife, the faintest hint.

As such, one cannot blame the former Premier for declaring that “there is nowhere in the world that the election date is discussed” with the other side, and that if Pakatan wants a say, they should get elected first.

Back to the big question: When will the general election be if it is not going to be this year?

Every general election since Merdeka has been held at least six months before the Parliamentary term expired and very few see Najib bucking the trend on this.

The current Parliament expires in April 2013. Assuming Najib sticks to the practice of calling it six months before the term ends, the window Najib would be looking at ought to fall between January and October 2012. Ten months may look like a big window until one considers that the polls are more likely to take place during the school holidays. That way, the window begins to look a little more definite.

It does look like 2012 will be election year. The problem is that 2012 is also when the world will end, according to Nostradamus.

Don’t laugh, Nostradamus may not be entirely wrong because it will definitely feel like the end of the world for whichever side loses in the next general election.