THAT the Barisan Nasional will be returned to power seems to be a foregone conclusion. It's a given. What everyone wants to know is whether the BN can command at least a two-third control of Parliament, a yardstick that has often been used to measure the ruling coalition's might and support.
BN party stalwarts are confident that getting a two-third majority is not a problem, a forecast that detractors say the ruling coalition should not take for granted. It's not easy to reduce the two-third majority of the BN, and even more so in displacing them from the seat of power.
I expect to see more Opposition faces in the Dewan Rakyat in the new Parliament. There could be new giantkillers too from among both sides of the fence. I won't be surprised if some big names will have this general election as their last battleground in the national political landscape.
The internal squabble within the contesting parties will also have a bearing on the outcome in some constituencies. The lobby for seats in some places have resulted in considerable fallouts, with a number of grassroot leaders adamant that they will close ops room and lend a hand in other constituencies.
This cannot be looked upon as a trivial matter. If the grassroot party machinery choose to close shop, the candidates will find it tough going to swing votes in their favour. We will see if the squabble in Umno Perlis will have any negative impact on results come March 8.
Somehow, the manner in which candidates were picked, dropped and picked again, besides last minute replacement before nomination on Feb 24, have fuelled speculation that some things are not as smooth as they should be for the BN this time around.
The Opposition, too, have its share of wheeling and dealing, complete with U turns and last minute swaps. The BN's size and machinery may be able to carry the slack arising out of these last minute changes, but the same cannot be said of the Opposition.
BN campaigners have been going around telling voters to vote for the party and not give too much consideration to individual candidates. Urban voters, who have better access to information and have different set of priorities, may not necessarily fall for this kind of plea.
To many of them, it's not just a matter of choosing the right party, but rather of picking the candidate who have their welfare at heart. I also suspect that they may pick the Opposition fellow more out of dislike for the BN rather than a firm believe in what the former can do and deliver.
It's quite similar to the feelings of many football fans in the English Premier League - they'll root for the other team as long as they beat the hell out of Man Utd! For example, Arsenal fans will cheer Chelsea (an arch rival) as long as as Chelsea can whip Man Utd. By the same token, Liverpool fans will rally behind Everton as long as Everton can bring Man Utd down a peg or two.
The BN is confident of retaining all the State Assemblies it now controls, and proclaim loudly that Kelantan will also be theirs come March 8. But privately, quite a number of BN leaders are wary of the contests in Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis. This is the Malay hinterland. Failure or success here can have a telling effect right across the board.
For BN Chairman and Umno President, Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, this is the second time he's leading the charge for the coalition. Pak Lah knows he can't get the same kind of support he was getting in '04. That much he had conceded publicly in recent weeks.
In 12 days time we'll know how much of a reduction this will be, and what kind of impact it'll have on the national administration.