LATEST (from Bernama): PETALING JAYA, Feb 24 -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Tuesday confirmed that he would not be attending the G-15 Summit in Venezuela.
He said this at the opening of the China-Malaysia Economic Conference 2004 here.
No reason was given.
Monday February 23, 2004

Strong signs that polls will be called soon

By Wong Chun Wai

OVER the past few days, reporters have been calling up the Foreign Ministry for confirmation on whether the Prime Minister is going to Caracas, Venezuela, to attend the Group of 15 summit on Feb 25.
The ministry’s officials are equally anxious as they have been busy making preparations for Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for the meeting.
The security officers at Bukit Aman have also been asking the same question as they have to send an advance party to check the arrangements in the South American country.
It’s a long journey for the parties involved as they have to fly to London or Frankfurt for a connecting flight to Caracas.
There have been no signals from the Prime Minister’s office over the status of Abdullah’s itinerary, which requires Abdullah to stay in Caracas until Feb 29.
But it is almost certain that Abdullah will give the G15 summit a skip and focus his attention on preparations for the general election.
It is likely that Abdullah would shift his energies on his whirlwind tour of the nation and this week, he will focus on the northern states.
An official announcement on the cancellation of the trip would be a strong indication that the polls would surely be called soon.
Last week, he flew to Terengganu and Sarawak, where he met state Barisan Nasional leaders. The messages and mood of the huge gatherings were familiar, all pointing to the polls.
On Sunday, flags of the Barisan were put up in several strategic spots in Penang, particularly in areas where election workshops were being conducted.
In Tasik Glugor, PAS and Umno appeared to lock horns by competing to put up flags at the highest points of the trees in the area.
Going by the probabilities, it is possible that Parliament would be dissolved as early as March 7 before its scheduled session the following day.
It would serve little purpose for the honourable members if Parliament is dissolved midway.
In the 1999 elections, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad dissolved Parliament midway in the session – the first time in the country’s history – but that was because he had to table the Budget.
This time, there is no such predicament for Abdullah. Most MPs would rather spend their time campaigning instead of attending the daily meetings for a month.
Most Barisan MPs will not relish the idea of allowing their opposition counterparts to use the Dewan Rakyat to score political points in the run up to the elections.
The Government also does not want the opposition to bring up potentially embarrassing issues, which would put the former on the defensive.
If Parliament is dissolved by March 7, the Elections Commission will probably fix nominations within two weeks and polls are likely to be held by the end of March or early April. The campaigning period would probably be less than 10 days this time.
Over the next one week, most Barisan parties would have drawn up their list of potential candidates. The distribution of the 25 new parliamentary seats would need to be quickly finalised in the coming weeks to enable the component parties to gear up in these new areas.
According to informed sources, even that should not be a problem as the majority of the new seats would go to Umno, which has a strong campaign machinery.
The time is right - Abdullah, who has just completed his 100 days in office, is probably the most popular Malaysian leader now.
With Abdullah likely to announce his decision to call off his trip to Caracas this week, it should be all systems go from now for the elections.

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