Najib Razak has a tiny window of opportunity to call for polls that could seal a victory for his ruling coalition but waiting in the wings with the undercurrents of the Malay voters slowly swinging towards him is Mahathir Mohamad.
The margin is so thin that he might be in difficulty if he were to call for the general elections after the first quarter of the year.
The longer he waits, the more time he is giving to his opponents, in particular to Mahathir to campaign to the Malays to rope them against him.
The impact of Mahathir, who was chosen as prime minister candidate by the opposition coalition, is being felt across Selangor and in other parts of peninsula Malaysia.
Mahathir has only one strategy: garner Malay support and this can only be bad for the Barisan Nasional which is counting mostly on Malay support to remain in power.
But Mahathir seems to be doing it right, with his campaigns in the villages and in less urbanised areas drawing a fair number of folks who want to hear the other side of the political dialogues. These folks are constantly bombarded with Najib’s interactions on national television and in the tightly controlled local mainstream media.
They have no choice but to come out whenever they hear – at times by word of mouth – that Mahathir the former PM who has turned against his once protege Najib is around the corner.
Mahathir had a feel of the crowd during his campaigns in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, drawing thousands from their homes to listen to his anti-Najib tirades. He knows that the urban crowd is an opposition crowd and that these voters have not really changed their minds since the day they voted against the BN in 2008.
The urbanised areas have a fragmented voting database, with the Malay, Chinese and Indian well balanced in most constituencies.
But the on the fringe of Selangor and in many villages across the peninsula, the Malays are the majority voters in a large number of constituencies. These are the main targets of Mahathir and it appears he is hitting it harder than Najib would have expected in those areas.
For Najib, the time frame in which he could call for the polls is fast closing on him. There is an atmosphere of elections in the air whenever he intervenes or wherever he visits.
It is only a question of time for the PM to call for the elections, though the pundits are divided on whether it will be in February, right after the Chinese New Year or much later in July before the cut-off date for elections to be held almost automatically in August.
The last elections were held in May 2013. The Barisan lost more seats than ever before in its history and lost the majority of the popular votes but it retained power because the first past the post is not such a valid equation in the country.
The ruling party won most of its seats in marginal areas in Selangor but it won big in rural areas where it, however, met with rising contestation against its rule.
Nevertheless, the recent gerrymandering in Selangor, in particular, could play a bigger role in the election results. They could just keep the Barisan in power again, albeit with the same loss of popular vote but with a recapture of some seats against the Pakatan Harapan opposition.
On Friday, the Malaysian Insight portal said there were no signs of any Malay “tsunami” but the ripples are being felt across the Malay community and that could mean a tsunami is coming.
The portal quoted political researcher with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Mazlan Ali who pointed out there is a phenomenon similar to 1999 where people who do not normally participate in politics are coming out and attending certain rallies.
It also quoted ISEAS Yusof-Ishak (ISEAS) senior fellow Wan Saiful Wan Jan who said the two main issues leading up to the polls are Mahathir’s influence and the anger towards Najib Razak and the various allegations. But he said this is especially among the urban Malay voters.
Mahathir’s role in the electoral campaign will be to convince the Malays in the rural areas that Najib is to be removed as PM. He will hit harder on the 1MDB issue, Felda and other corruption allegations.
So far, his campaign seems to be gaining momentum and the impact he is having is undeniable, said sources who spoke to TISG.