Early polls talk dominate Umno circles
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 27 — Talk has surfaced in Umno and government circles that Datuk Seri Najib Razak is favouring early polls, as early as the first half of 2011, although the Barisan Nasional’s (BN) mandate is until 2013.
The Umno president has bounced the idea with ruling party politicians and believes that it is best to get a new mandate when the economy is still growing at a fast clip. Malaysia posted 10.1 per cent growth in the first quarter of 2010, followed by a slightly slower 8.9 per cent in the second quarter of the current year.
The Malaysian Insider understands that officials at Umno’s Menara Dato Onn headquarters are also concerned that their political foes are doing better job at registering new voters. Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties are signing up twice the number of voters compared to Umno’s allies in BN in the first six months of 2010.
“We are worried about the voter registration exercise by our people. It’s slow,” an Umno official told The Malaysian Insider.
Senior Umno leaders have been exhorting their supporters at the various Ramadan buka puasa functions this month to launch campaigns to sign up new voters. The young voters, between 21 and 35, are expected to form nearly half of the total electorate in the 13th general election with 7.36 million or 49.7 per cent against 4.36 million in Election 2008 or 40 per cent of the total number of voters.
The Umno leaders believe that every day or week delayed is more new voters aligned to PR, especially the DAP which has signed up 32.5 per cent of the new 169,838 voters registered between January and June 2010. Umno followed closely behind, registering 32.3 per cent of the new voters while PAS, 22.7 per cent in the same duration.
“Umno usually signs up more voters in the year-end during the school holidays but it’s urgent that we register more throughout the year, especially the young,” the Umno official said on condition of anonymity.
Umno/BN officials believe that victory can be achieved if a significant chunk of Malays and Indians vote for BN. Umno officials believe that only 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the Chinese will vote for the ruling coalition but are confident that at least 60 per cent of Malays and Indians will vote for them.
It is learnt that the main plank of the election strategy is to go for the Malay vote, which is naturally Umno’s strongest vote bank with a substantial number of them in the civil service and Felda settlements across the country apart from rural households.
This explains why party officials are going all the way with the race card. But this strategy carries risks as it weakens Umno’s partners in the BN and makes PR a stronger multi-racial alternative to the ruling coalition.
However, Umno is confident of the Malay vote as recent surveys by a number of pollsters show that between 55 and 57 per cent of the Malays support Umno/BN.
In the general elections since 1986, Malay support for Umno has only dipped below 60 per cent in 1999 and 2008, where the bloc combining PAS and Keadilan and later its successor PKR made inroads into Umno seats.
The year 1999 is significant as that was the year PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for sodomy and corruption, generating support for the opposition which then captured Terengganu. That year, Umno only received 55.59 per cent of the popular Malay vote.
In 2008, a free Anwar campaigned and helped the fledgling PR capture five states and 82 federal seats where popular Malay vote for Umno fell to 45.91 per cent, dipping below the 50 per cent mark.
Umno officials say the party has already begun looking for talents for the next general election since early this year but a concern is whether the new faces will be acceptable to the grassroots.
“We can’t have parachute candidates and that’s why we have begun the process early,” an official told The Malaysian Insider.
He also said scenarios sketched out by Umno researchers show that a 10 per cent swing vote to BN will reduce PR’s current 77 federal seats to just 27. On the flip side, a 10 per cent swing to PR could see the tripartite bloc capture Putrajaya with five seats to spare in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat.
“These are interesting scenarios but we are updating this all the time,” the official added.
It is also understood that the RM500 Hari Raya Aidilfitri bonus for federal civil servants is unprecedented and could be the harbinger of more goodies for the strategic vote bank. Some civil servants said the lack of bonus in 2007 had cost Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi votes in Election 2008.
The BN government started giving out annual bonuses to civil servants since 1993.
BN Back Benchers Club (BNBBC) deputy chairman Datuk Bung Moktar Radin said he did not think that the coalition will call for snap polls soon.
“In my view, there is no excuse, there is no need... In fact, if possible, we want the government to continue with its mandate to carry out development projects and call for elections in 2013,” the Kinabatangan MP told The Malaysian Insider.
Stressing that it was not necessary, Bung Mokhtar also pointed out that early polls are a waste of public funds and the government should use its full five-year mandate.
“There are no big problems, the Najib government is not facing any crisis or problems with public confidence in Najib’s leadership... the economy is okay based on what has been announced recently,” said the Sabah Umno leader.
Asked if the Najib administration’s decision to hand out Aidilfitri bonuses can be seen as an indicator of early snap polls, Bung Mokhtar said the payment was made sincerely to celebrate Aidilfitri and not to get public support.
When asked the possibility of early snap polls, PAS vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar said the Sarawak state election results will decide the timing of the federal elections.
“I believe that any snap polls will depend on BN’s performance in Sarawak. I believe the state elections there will be held after Aidilfitri and before November,” the Pokok Sena MP told The Malaysian Insider.
“If BN performs well, it will use the momentum to call for a general election. If not, I believe the next general election will be at the end of 2011 or in 2012.
“It all depends on the results of the Sarawak state polls and I see that it could be dissolved before the Budget 2011 is tabled and elections a few weeks after that,” he added.
PAS secretary-general Datuk Mustafa Ali expressed confidence that Parliament will be dissolved after next March when the current BN mandate is three years.
But he was pessimistic that a general election will be called next year.
“By my calculations, BN is not ready. I see that BN has a lot of unsolved issues.... still some way yet,” Mustafa said, adding there was a possibility that the Sarawak elections could be held next year before the mandate expires in July 2011.