Even before formal announcements of the impending general elections are made, Malaysia is already facing election fever as political parties gather steam in wooing voters.

Najib Razak

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, gestures as he speaks at a radio station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Pic: AP.

Political parties have been actively rallying their troops in the midst of strong indicators that Malaysia’s 13th general elections could be held in May or June. In some places, banners and flags of political parties are already put up, even though official campaigning is only allowed for seven days before the general elections.

According to local mainstream publication the Star, Barisan Nasional will begin finalizing its potential candidates for the general elections after April 30. “We will screen the potential candidates thoroughly to ensure that those chosen are not marred by perceptions of scandal or corruption,” Barisan Nasional secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was quoted as saying.

He also said that the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) division had submitted their list of candidates. UMNO said two-thirds of the names submitted to contest in Penang would be new faces. The Star also reported that former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is among those on the list to contest in Penang.

Penang has become a stronghold of the opposition parties following a landslide victory by Pakatan Rakyat coalition in the 2008 elections.

Meanwhile, opposition party DAP is also seen to be riding on the momentum of the general elections by launching its election theme, complete with election campaign songs and merchandize to raise the party’s profile.

The Malaysian Insider quoted DAP national publicity secretary Anthony Loke as saying that the election campaign song is available in three languages, to attract young Malaysians and educate them about the importance of voting.

For both the federal government and the Opposition, the stakes are exceptionally high, given an increasingly frustrated nation over the level of corruption in the country and race-based politics.

The Opposition has branded itself as the change that the nation wants, promising massive clean-ups in the country’s governance although it is also marred by internal factions and corruption allegations.

The Barisan Nasional – the coalition forming the country’s federal government – faced a heavy blow in the 2008 general elections, after it lost two-third majority for the first time since its first elections in 1959. Touted as Malaysia’s political tsunami the coalition lost several key states to the Opposition, including key manufacturing states Penang and Selangor, which in turn saw the exit of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as Prime Minister.

However, the Barisan Nasional is not about to allow a similar fate this time round and is said to have regained a sizeable amount of voters in certain constituencies.

Current Prime Minister Najib Razak – who is Oxford educated and holds an image of a reformed leader – has been actively making his rounds and building rapport with communities around the country recently, as well as giving generous cash handouts to students and households. He is also set to give FELDA – an agricultural scheme mainly for Malays – settlers a windfall profit upon the listing of its commercial arm Felda Global Ventures Holdings in May.

Political observers say it is better for Najib to call the elections within the first half of the year, given that he has the upper hand currently riding on the feel-good sentiment gained from several reforms made in the country’s policies such as the repeal of the Internal Security Act and goodies given to households.

It is also pertinent for Najib to secure his mandate in order to be able to hold the fort within UMNO, which is likely to call for a party election in the second half of the year.

The election fever has also prompted election watchdog BERSIH – consisting a coalition of non-governmental organizations – to push for electoral reforms ahead of the elections, following claims of an influx of phantom voters in several constituencies in the country.

The BERSIH committee will organize its third protest on April 28 in Malaysia, as well as in cities worldwide, to pressure the Election Commission (EC) to clean up the electoral process, despite denials by the EC that the electoral system is “dirty”.

Najib’s administration is not expected to clamp down on the protest this time, given the heavy backlash it received for its crackdown on the massive rally that BERSIH organized in July last year. Media reports said more than 1,600 people were arrested in the rally but were released on the same day.

Nevertheless, it is inevitable that the nation will once again brace for more dramas and action, as both camps will be expected to go out in full force to gain political mileage within the next few weeks.