Early polls talk dominate Umno circles

By The Malaysian Insider

 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.