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The cat is out of the bag. Despite vows of being able to retain the federal government with two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, Prime Minister Najib Razak is staring at stark defeat.
According to political sources, a survey conducted by a special government intelligence unit showed Najib's Umno-Barisan Nasional coalition trailing far behind the Pakatan Rakyat led by Anwar Ibrahim with only 98 seats to the Opposition's 124.
Anwar and PR are expected to win 10 seats in the Federal Territories, 10 in Johor, 11 in Kedah, 12 in Kelantan, 18 in Perak, 17 in Selangor, 1 in Terengganu, 1 in Malacca, 3 in Negeri Sembilan, 5 in Pahang, 0 in Perlis and a total of 25 in Sabah and Sarawak.
"This is a real eye-opener for the big-wigs in Umno. It is no wonder Najib and Mahathir are now so panicky in their response to issues that crop up. They cannot afford to make any mistake at this stage," Zulkefly Othman, secretary of the security council in Anwar's PKR party, told Malaysia Chronicle.
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RM5mil going rate to "buy over" a PR candidate
Zulkefly, who is also the head of strategy for the PKR Malacca division, expects the going to get "really rough and dirty" in the weeks ahead, with vote-rigging, Opposition-bashing and an avalanche of "election goodies" to deluge the nation as the Umno-BN struggled to retain its 55-year stranglehold on power.
He warns that BN has intensified its lures to Opposition candidates to defect, a threat that he said the PR leadership must beware of and put at the top of its list of electoral risks.
"The going rate is now RM5 mil for a PR candidate and going closer to the GE, we can expect this number to increase. The BN will surely play very dirty and the PR leadership must find ways to counter this," said Zulkefly.
"To me, this is even more dangerous than the vote-rigging and padding of the electoral rolls. So in choosing their contestants, the top PR leaders must be wise. They must have a plan to prevent this sort of unethical defection and the best way is to recruit only those who are truly sincere and have iron-cast principles. Those who are thick-skinned and not 'malu' (shy) to jump ship should not be considered," Zulkefly said.
Nervous Najib might again delay GE13
Indeed, the nervousness displayed by Umno-BN leaders is visible. Former premier Mahathir Mohamad has been making a return to the limelight in a bid to rally support from the key Malay electorate and even Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has promised the BN may make permanent a cash aid scheme it recently announced so as to get the people to retain the political status quo.
“We don't want to see such aid be a one-off payment. It should be disbursed on a long-term basis. I believe the Prime Minister will look into BR1M (1Malaysia People's Aid) as a programme that should be continued. I am sure that it will be continued on a long-term basis when the rakyat (people) retains Barisan as the Federal Government,” theStar newspaper reported Muhyiddin as saying after distributing RM100 cash vouchers to students of five schools last week.
However, it may be too late for the BN. No matter what late-hour strategy Najib pulls, many political observers and pundits are of the view that the people will plumb for change, disgusted and fed-up with the rampant and endemic corruption in the BN government.
According to Zulkefly, Najib might use the latest survey to once again delay the GE13. The latest hint coming from those in the PM's camp are that he will dissolve Parliament on Feb 22, post nominations on Mar 16, with balloting on Mar 30.
"We won't be surprised. Najib may wait for Parliament to automatically dissolve on April 28 to buy himself and the BN more time. But there is no guarantee they can win back the people. I would say Malaysians are already very annoyed by the delay so far. They have made up their minds and want to vote. If Najib continues to dilly-dally, it will only irritate them more," said Zulkefly.
Market sell-off, investors wearied by prolonged uncertainty
Even investors are betting on a regime change and recently sold off in anticipation that hardliners in Najib's party might create unrest if they lost. The benchmark stock market index FBM KLCI suffered its steepest one-day fall in 8 months last week, plunging 40.81 points and losing RM35billion in market capitalization amid speculation Najib would dissolve Parliament on February 22.
"Why must the entire nation- yes all of us - from corporate sector making investment decision to citizens wanting to plan weddings or umrah trip, be subjected to this vagaries of an election date?" asked Dzulkefly Ahmad, the MP for Kuala Selangor who also heads the PAS Research Centre.
In the country's coming 13th general election, 222 seats in the federal Parliament and 505 state assembly seats in 12 states (excluding Sarawak which held its state assembly election in 2011) will be contested.
In the 2008 election, PR had won 82 seats vs BN's 140, denying for the first time the Umno-BN government its long-held two-thirds control of Parliament, which allows it to hammer through key changes to the Federal Constitution, the country's highest law.
In the 2004 election, PR had only managed to win 21 vs BN's 198. At that time, there were only 219 parliamentary seats were up for contest. Three new seats were created only in the 2008 election - Igan, Sibuti and Limbang in Sarawak.