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SPECULATION: Many dates have been bandied about, but Najib is meticulous in his preparations for his key voting test
WE all know the next general election is drawing closer. Will it be in September as some speculate? And if it is next year, will Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stretch the date until after the current parliamentary term expires on April 28?
As polls fever hits Malaysians, election workers have lined up some roads with party flags, banners and bunting with political messages as though voting day is just a few days away.
The date of the 13th general election has been the subject of speculation of late, especially with the many announcements by the government bringing immediate or promised benefits to the people.
The latest beneficiaries are the 1.27 million civil servants and 657,000 government pensioners who will receive bonuses next month. Both groups are considered an important voting bloc among the 13 million eligible voters.
It seems that this is a season to be noticed and make one's presence felt, so, most incumbent BN representatives have made it a point of not turning down invitations to attend functions, especially if the guest of honour is Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak or his deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
A full house was recorded at the breaking of fast hosted by Najib at Seri Perdana for menteris besar, chief ministers and cabinet members, among others, on Monday, which also coincided with the premier's 59th birthday. The series of meetings among top BN leaders on election candidates and the frantic search for menteri besar candidates for several states, including Selangor and Negri Sembilan, put speculation on the election date in overdrive.
Another is when Najib, during a dinner gathering of about 500 former elected representatives at Seri Perdana, told those present that he did not have time to meet them personally before the polls to ask for their help to ensure BN candidates' victory.
Some politicians read this as the prime minister telling those who were defeated in 2008 to stop dreaming about contesting this time round.
"If not, why would the prime minister ask for our help to ensure BN candidates' victory?" one of those who lost in 2008 told a colleague.
Several dates had been bandied about for the elections -- first it was March, then, either in June or July, and now, September. The school holidays in March next year is also said to be another definitive date.
Some analysts think Najib may even opt to wait until Parliament lapses and is automatically dissolved before calling a general election within the 60 days allowed under the country's election laws.
An academician from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Associate Prof Dr Fuad Mold Jali said polling would depend on the success of Najib's initiatives for the people as he wanted the people to enjoy the benefits from the transformation programmes.
If elections are delayed, it is not out the fear of defeat.
Najib is cautious and meticulous about ensuring that BN wins big under his command.
He is calculative of the votes of first-time voters, whose support could help grow the 330,000-vote margin in 2008 between BN and Pakatan Rakyat.
The desire to regain lost seats and to secure his own mandate with an improved performance is strong. Najib has set his sights on winning back at least one state from Pakatan, notably the rich Selangor, one of five the BN lost in 2008; the others were Kedah, Penang, Kelantan and Perak, which was wrested a year later through the defection of three lawmakers.
So, maybe the BN chairman needs a little more time. His popularity alone -- his approval is stable at 65 per cent in June, according to a Merdeka Center for Opinion Research survey -- cannot carry Umno and BN.
BN needs 148 out of the 222 seats in Parliament to regain its two-thirds majority; the coalition was humbled with 140 seats but now has 137 after a series of defections and by-elections.
Of BN's 140 seats won in 2008, 56 were won with a majority of under 10 per cent, and of the 83 seats on Pakatan's side, 54 were won with a similarly tight majority. And since the majority of these marginal seats are multi-ethinic seats, BN will have to ensure its support base is spread beyond the Malays.
BN's internal surveys until now are still below expectations; new surveys are conducted for the prime minister to consider before deciding on the polls.
Muhyiddin prefers the elections to be held in September, having proposed the date several times to his No 1. But Najib reportedly, was non-committal, preferring to keep the polling date close to his chest.
Minister in the Prime Minister's department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz is keen to follow the British-style full 5-year term before the next election is called and said he would seek the views of the attorney-general over the matter, sending senior politicians to read it as an indication that Najib wants to complete the current parliamentary term.
Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also prefers elections to be held within this year.
So do many other Umno leaders who are anxious to put an end to the uncertainty surrounding the timing of the election as their lives have since centred around the polls.
These leaders complained they are running out of funds to finance activities on the ground and suffering from exhaustion as they had move into high gear of campaigning in anticipation of elections being held during the first and second quarters of the year.
But despite the uncertainty on the polling date, all political parties have begun their campaigns by increasing their outreach, holding daily rallies, and putting up flags in various parts of the country.
What is certain is that the looming 13th general election will take place in a highly charged and unpredictable political environment.