Thursday, February 14, 2008
Pak Lah in a bind to call for snap election
Finally, the long expected snap election has come to fruitation. Despite a clear cut denial a day earlier, the Prime Minister made the announcement to dissolve Parliament yesterday after getting the Royal consent in the morning. If 2004 is used as a yardstick whereby the election is held 17 days after parliament dissolved, then this year's election is expected to fall on March 1st, 2008.
There are sources saying Abdullah himself is quite unprepared to announced the dissolution of Parliament yesterday but was told from the palace that the Agong is leaving abroad soon. Thus, that is believed to be the explanation for the appointment with the Agong yesterday.
If it is any indication, the decision to hold a snap election comes with an undercurrent of mixed feeling within the ranks of UMNO. It is believed that "intelligence" discouraged the Prime Minister from holding it. Joceline Tan of The Star described in her column today that the atmosphere during the press conference was that of nervousness. The Deputy Prime Minister was seen with tightly clenching his hands at the back, perhasp giving away a not quite as calm feeling.
The said "intelligence" recommended the Prime Minister to solve first the problems faced by Government. The main being the negative perception on the personality of Abdullah and his ability to govern.
The biggest concern of the people throughout his administration is the rising prices and economy. Another issue is the continuous demands and conflict on ethnic and interfaith issues that has culminated into a series of demonstrations late last year. This has seriously affected his ratings. The latest Merdeka Centre Survey reported a sharp drop in his approval rating from 70% to 60%. Even during the reformasi era of late 90s which had left a dent on Barisan Nasional in the 1999 election, Dr Mahathir's approval rating remains stable at 70-80%.
Many made the simplistic conclusion that Abdullah is trying to avoid having Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim run for office, thus insisting it be held before end of March 2008. With PKR faced with exodus of it's core reformasi "warriors" and with only Permatang Pauh parliament seat, Anwar is no more a factor.
The real concern to his political career is the UMNO party election. After delaying the UMNO party election by 18 months using the excuse to focus on the 9th Malaysia Plan, he must hold the UMNO party election before the end of June. The challenge on his premiership is expected to be more serious from within UMNO, than from Barisan Nasional component members or Opposition parties. He is believed to undertake a purging exercise to relief himself from possible challengers to himself and his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin.
This discomfort is expressed by Khairy as he views the challenges from within UMNO as more serious than from outside. Although Tun Musa Hitam denied that there will be sabotage from within, the initial feedback received is that there is the likelihood of UMNO members disgruntled with the Khairy factor is sitting out this election. This could translate into the possibility of a higher incident of "undi rosak".
Abdullah need the new mandate to proceed with his painful economic reform plans and economic corridors, particularly the highly controversial and explosive Islandar Development Region. Many believed that the insistence to fast forward the election comes more from the his son-in-law and kuncu-kuncu young advisers.
Abdullah has expressed that Government could not afford to maintain the high level of subsidy and indirectly maintain the relatively low price level on basic items such as food, transportation and particularly petrol. The longer he delays election, the more difficult it is to contain prices from moving up and the impact politically will be more damaging.
In addition, he is should be quite aware that throughout his administration, the economy has been sluggish. Economic growth has been stagnant ranging within the 5-6% growth, saved only by the rise in global commodity prices. With the US confirmed to dive into a major recession and exercebate further by the plunging US Dollar, even comforting words from Lee Kuan Yew will not prevent recessionary pressure from by-passing trading nation Malaysia. As far as the economy is concerned, Abdullah can only spin numbers but he has yet to present a convincing short term solution in hand that can bring the glory economic growth of the 80s and 90s.
How the election outcome is will be anybody guess, but without a serious opposition pact, Barisan is likely to win and maintain it's two thrid majority. This time around the challenge on Barisan Nasional is expected to be more intense with ethnic Chinese and Indian votes expected to slant to the opposition and few states like Terengganu, Penang, Sabah and Kedah are under tremendous opposition on-slaught. Ideological differences within the opposition remains a stumbling block and this is favourable to Barisan Nasional.
Off course, it is still too early to predict precisely without the candidate list available. This time around with campaigning period short, voters will likely vote for candidates they are familiar with. However, Barisan Nasional, particularly UMNO, is expected to offer relatively more new faces and younger candidate. UMNO is seriously moving towards "meremajakan UMNO" to invigorate the party, as Najib kept repeating at the last two UMNO General Assembly. The removal of the old guards did not come without a fight and few state-level squabbles is seen. As far as depth of talents, Barisan is far more superior than the opposition. It's long track record cannot be denied.
While we await further development and announcement from the Election Commission, I remain.
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