Unlike in the peninsula, Internet-campaigning in Sabah is still minimal and confined to small cells of urban people.
A second round of cash handouts announced by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is getting Sabah towns all excited as people thronged community halls, district offices and banks which have been designated as distribution centres. Even small towns are experiencing traffic jams due to the sudden influx of kampung folks to the town centre.
Sabah BN leaders have also started to dominate the pages of the meek, government-leaning local newspapers, attacking the opposition leaders from Pakatan Rakyat, State Reform Party (STAR) and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP).
Chief Minister Musa Aman, himself embroiled in a few nasty scandals, has found time to fire one or two salvos every other day against the opposition, something he seldom did before. It used to be State Legislative Assembly Speaker Salleh Said Keruak, the No 2 in Sabah Umno, and others who normally had this role.
Musa has consistently used his stock phrase “let us work harder” to rally public opinion while his men and allies have been giving assurance that BN remains the best choice for Sabahans in terms of security, development and freedom of religion.
Musa’s ally in the Chinese community, VK Liew, the president of the Liberal Democratic Party, seemingly flustered by the persistent murmurs that the tide has turned against the coalition, urged voters to stick with BN.
Another component leader, Bernard Dompok, president of Upko, has also told the state’s native Christians that only the Umno-led BN could assure the continuance of a secular Malaysia and warned them about Pakatan’s link with the Islamic party PAS.
Dompok said the threat of an “Islamic state” is real, and pointed to PAS rule in Kelantan and the introduction of Islamic administration and hudud.
Upko senior leader, Madius Tangau, is also said to have been going around kampungs in Tuaran telling the electorate that syariah law would be around the corner if they dared to vote for the opposition.
Over the past few days, flags of BN component parties in Sabah (Umno, PBS, Upko, PBRS, LDP, MCA and Gerakan) have started mushrooming, hinting of election coming in weeks time rather than months.
The 222-member Malaysian Parliament is to reach its maximum five-year term by this April, paving the way for automatic dissolution.
SAPP prepared, STAR not yet
The Menteri Besar of Pakatan-held Selangor, Khalid Ibrahim, has hinted that his government could dissolve its state assembly after Chinese New Year celebrations that start this weekend.
Opposition party SAPP has also upped its campaigning, holding daily “ceramah” and distributing leaflets and other party paraphernelia to supporters and onlookers. It is understood SAPP president Yong Teck Lee has ordered potential candidates to go to the ground more aggressively from today.
While SAPP had since last year appointed its election directors for each of the seats, its rival STAR is yet to do so, leaving many of its potential candidates in limbo.
The eligibility to contest in the election is also up in the air as the Sarawak-based party does not have registered branch in Sabah.
The party, however, has previously contested in the northern district of Kota Marudu and Jeffrey has been insistent that STAR has the assurance of the Election Commission that its symbol is on its list for the coming polls.
Unlike in the peninsula, so far Internet-campaigning in Sabah is still minimal and confined to small cells of urban people with limited outreach capability, especially in rural areas where unbiased information is needed.
This has given the government the upper hand as the print media is still the best alternative to reach this group of the electorate besides the “ceramah” or roadshow of political parties.
It is expected that the BN will from this week start flooding the state-owned television and radio stations with more political propaganda.