What are the signs that election is near?

1. Chief Minister getting active
The Chief Minister is always officiating at various functions in different places in Sarawak. But when the Chief Minister has been attending more functions including two or three within one day at different places, it is a sign that election is near. Last Sunday, for instance, the Chief Minister attended one function in Mukah and another two in Sibu. In fact, since he returned from overseas and was received by 7,000 persons in Kuching, the Chief Minister has been on the move. He had attended all kinds of functions in Kuching, Asajaya, Miri, Mukah and Sibu. This excludes the many functions he had officiated last week and will officiate in the coming weeks. I view those visits as his first round of visit prior to election, aside from a step to strengthen his position in light of the recent statement to step down as the Chief Minister. No doubt some of the functions were related to Hari Raya celebration but in the political context, there is a political agenda hidden in such events more so as election approaches.

2. More ministers from Putrajaya came to Sarawak
If you noticed more ministers from Putrajaya are coming to Sarawak, it is another sign that election is getting nearer. Their presence here could be for various reasons, including announcing Federal development projects, monitor the progress of projects and to officiate at functions.

3. Politics and development issues in speeches
If you noticed the content of the Chief Minister’s speech, part of his speech leads to politics, election and development. He emphasises that under his 29 years of leadership, Sarawak has changed tremendously. He also stresses that only BN is capable of bringing development and under the politics of development coined by him, more development can be implemented. He also denies practising nepotism in the distribution of projects.

4. Making more promises
Come the election, political leaders tend to make plenty of promises with the people. This is normal because of the need to convince the people. The Chief Minister is of the opinion that Sarawak will be creating 640,000 job opportunities under SCORE and by 2030, Sarawak will become the richest State in the country. It has been the game of politicians where they make promises and give hope to the people as their strategy in political communication.

5. More speeches attacking Opposition
Another sign election is getting closer is the relentless attack on the opposition by BN leaders. They will attack the opposition by saying that the opposition parties are not capable of bringing development, but merely know how to talk and make empty promises. The weaknesses of the opposition, including their inability to lead and the party’s internal fighting will be manipulated.

6. More projects are officiated
No doubt BN is always launching projects but when election draws near, there will be more projects launched, just like during the past elections. Political leaders, from the Chief Minister to the State Assemblyman will officiate at numerous projects, including construction of roads, buildings, schools, clinics and so forth. Newly completed projects will be officially launched although the project could have been completed some time ago or had been launched before. For new projects, the earth breaking ceremony will be held. The people will be invited to attend such functions. At these functions, it has been a trend for the guest-of-honour to talk about development when delivering his or her speech.

7. Higher amount of allocation channeled
More allocation will be channeled for more projects. The allocation will be announced during the speeches. There is a tendency of the State government to increase allocation during election year based on previous record. The government is also more generous in channeling grants to non-governmental organisations.

8. Grassroot leaders told to attend courses
Grassroot leaders such as ketua kampung, tuai rumah, temenggong and so forth will be told to attend various courses which are actually meant to channel certain messages to them, including the need to be loyal and support the government. As the leaders are appointed by the government and receive allowance from the government, the support of grassroot leaders is crucial to ensure BN wins.

9. Government officers attend seminar, courses and workshops Another sign is that the important officials from the government, including officers and staff from KEMAS, Jabatan Penerangan and so forth are requested to attend courses as preparation to face election. Some of the officers had attended such courses, hadn’t them?

10. More media coverage on politics and development
Sarawak has seven newspapers, two in English, two in Bahasa Melayu and three in Mandarin. If you had carried out a content analysis on the newspapers, you will see that it is obvious that since several weeks ago, the amount of political and election news has increased. The papers linked to BN party or State leaders tend to portray the advantage of BN and its candidates. In fact, newspapers are beginning to report who are the potential candidates. Leaders of BN component parties are quoted as saying that they are geared up for election.
Take note if there are special reports highlighting development and progress implemented by the candidate in an area, through TV1 and Radio Malaysia Sarawak. If such reports are published, then it is obvious that election is close.

11. Sejiwa Senada Programme
Sejiwa Senada Programme implemented by the government comes with its political agenda. Through the programme, the government leaders hope to meet and interact with the people. When will the programme end? If according to the initial plan, it will end sometime middle of March next year. If this is taken into consideration, the election should be held by end of March or early April. But 24 hours is too long in politics. The initial date can be changed. Many latest developments need to be taken into consideration, including the economic factor.

12. Chief Minister’s beard growing longer
Lastly, don’t forget to observe the Chief Minister’s beard that appears to have grown longer and seem unkempt as election approaches. For those who have noticed such tendency during the past elections, the sign is not to be ignored. But could it merely be a coincidence or is it because he is simply too busy?Those are some of the signs that election is drawing nearer. You can always come up with your own list.

* The writer, Dr Jeniri Amir,a political analyst, is currently senior lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.