By Lim Sue Goan
DAP’s parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang said it didn’t matter whether the next general election (GE14) would be held this year or next year, as Prime Minister Najib Razak had missed the golden opportunity to clinch the best results.
Uncle Lim was right. If Najib had called for the GE14 immediately after the Sarawak state election last May or the twin by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar last year, or when the opposition was in a disarray, Barisan Nasional (BN) would have won more seats than what it did in 2013.
But this advantage is now evaporating.
Umno could have commanded a number of advantages. For example, the party could have won more Malay votes than the opposition parties after PAS’ break-up with DAP, PKR and Amanah, and the results of the twin by-elections in June last year proved that the three-cornered fight model would indeed help Umno recapture the lost Malay constituencies.
Now that Pakatan Harapan (PH) has successfully completed its integration process and launched its leadership structure and ruling agenda on July 14, it has allowed rural voters to turn their attention to PH as an alternative to replace BN at the expense of PAS.
On top of that, even as the 1MDB scandal began to drift away from public attention early this year, the US Department of Justice launched a new round of seizures in June, refreshing the memories of the public towards the multi-billion ringgit scandal once again.
Even if the BN government has decided to set up a royal commission of inquiry to probe the Bank Negara forex losses, the damage has already been done, and it will require more time to dilute the impact of the 1MDB incident.
The minimum wage scheme and the payrises for 1.6 million civil servants last July would have offered a golden opportunity to call for election. Unfortunately prices of goods have been rising steadily since while the recovery of the ringgit has been slow, offsetting the effects of payrises and BR1M.
According to a UCSI University study in conjunction with a random survey by Sin Chew Daily, 33.8% of respondents are experiencing reduced incomes or salaries of between 1% and 5%. This shows that Malaysians’ sentiment towards the economy has not actually turned positive with the passage of time.
Now that BN has missed the best opportunity for election, will the ruling coalition ever have any chance of dispelling the negativities in creating another perfect timing for the general election?
Politically speaking, any possibility cannot be ruled out, although it will be more difficult now to turn the tide.
Firstly, the Merdeka month is coming and the 60th anniversary celebration should bring things to a climax. As if that is not enough, the 29th SEA Games will be held in Kuala Lumpur, and if we manage to clinch the overall title, a feel good atmosphere is set to be created.
Secondly, some large scale projects will soon be launched, including the first 1,500 SMEs to join the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) this October, and the implementation of the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).
These, coupled with the imminent visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Malaysia, should provide an added advantage to the ruling coalition.
Thirdly, BN will very likely introduce more people-friendly measures and goodies in the 2018 Budget this October.
That being said, there is actually very little the BN government can do to stimulate the national economy.
In view of the drained national coffers, the government must step up its tax recovery operations in order to support its enormous operating expenses, leaving very little that can be put in to jumpstart the real economy.
Even though some urban Chinese voters disillusioned by the opposition may turn towards BN or simply stay away from the polling stations this time, there is little hope BN can recapture urban seats it lost in the last GE, as over half of urban voters are still unhappy with BN.
Among the things urban voters are most concerned about, there is still room for public transportation to improve. As for the other parameters such as graft-busting, crime rate reduction, strengthening of financial management, transparency and democratic governance, etc, BN’s performance has been disappointing.
As for Chinese-majority constituencies, BN is not confident of winning them back because it has not shown enough sincerity to help the community, including the long delayed recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), which students in private Chinese secondary schools sit for.
In the rural areas, meanwhile, BN is risking the draining of its support as PPBM is making steady advances infiltrating into Umno’s fortresses.
BN may not win enough urban votes to secure its success while it faces the risk of undermined fundamental support base.
Najib is still waiting for the best time to call for election, but time is running out fast and his options are getting very limited now.
The crucial thing is, how many swing votes will he be able to bring over to his side?
Lim Sue Goan is deputy executive chief editor of Sin Chew Daily.
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