Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hulu Selangor inspires MIC but Samy’s exit date still unknown

KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), which took a severe knock in the 2008 general election, appears to have endeared itself with more Indian voters this time around if the results of the recent Hulu Selangor parliamentary by-election are anything to go by.

In the 2008 general election, the country’s largest Indian-based party managed to win only three of nine parliamentary seats and six out of 19 state seats it contested.

Hulu Selangor’s victor, P. Kamalanathan, said after his win that the Indians are back with MIC following support for the party sinking to an all-time low of about 40 per cent two years ago.

But he was level-headed enough to add that his win “doesn’t mean the work is over” and that “we still have a lot more to do.”

That Kamalanathan managed to pull off a victory is a huge credit to him as he started off as the underdog. And he proved that he was no ordinary MP when he got to work right away on Monday after his victory on Sunday by visiting his constituents and pledging to improve things for them, encompassing all ethnic groups along the way.

Kamalanathan’s name was not on the radar initially. Party supremo Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu had already announced that his deputy, Datuk G. Palanivel, was to contest although it had been customary to allow such announcements to be made by Barisan Nasional chairman and Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Samy Vellu’s announcement opened a pandora’s box of confusion as Palanivel was not seen as a strong candidate by the BN leadership after his loss to a then ailing Datuk Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad of PKR in 2008.

Then the name of Hulu Selangor’s MIC youth chief V. Mugilan surfaced. But this candidate was not favoured by the MIC top brass and they even wanted to expel the young man “for working against the interests of the party” initially.

A compromise was reached when both MIC and UMNO decided on Kamalanathan, the MIC information chief.

From the word “go”, Kamalanathan, a public relations manager, was joined by Palanivel and Mugilan to canvass for votes. Their united front also put to end speculation that their (Palanivel and Mugilan’s) supporters would not support the BN in the by-election.

Kamalanathan coasted to victory with a 1,725 vote majority. His win, despite the shaky start, saw the MIC not only recapturing the seat but also increasing Indian support for the ruling coalition.

“The (winning) majority is fine. From now on this is the kind of majority you would be able to see in the future. Gone are the days when you have 10,000 and 20,000 vote majority. A win is a win, no matter what the majority,” said Palanivel.

While there were other factors which led to the increase in Indian support like the inclusive approach adopted by Najib and the entire BN election machinery going all out for victory, the MIC’s efforts in helping BN win the by-election should not be downplayed.

MIC members immediately “attacked the ground”, especially in areas with large concentrations of Indians and managed to grab nearly 65 per cent of Indian support for BN.

But support from the Malaysian Makkal Sakthi Party and the Indian Progressive Front, two other Indian-based parties, also helped. Makkal Sakthi, whose members are noted for their bright orange t-shirts, was aligned with the Opposition in 2008, but it has since thrown its support behind BN.

Samy Vellu, in acknowledging the increase in Indian support, said the MIC needed to redouble its efforts to raise this to 80 per cent again.

That aside, MIC watchers are also wondering when Samy Vellu will pass on the leadership baton to Palanivel, who will be made a senator soon.

The MIC boss recently said that he would leave the top job once some “outstanding party matters had been settled.”

But his current term as MIC president only ends in 2012 and he has been at the helm for 31 years.

When asked about this, Palanivel, who had always been deferential and diplomatic on this touchy subject, said that he would leave it to Samy Vellu to decide on the time frame and transition although he was already ready to take over the MIC top post.

He said he would wait for Samy Vellu “to be ready to leave” before taking over.

“The question of whether if I am ready does not arise. I have been his deputy since 2006. I have been trained. When he (Samy Vellu) is ready to give up the post, I am ready to take it.

“It is a question of when the president is ready to handover. That only he will know. Only he can decide on the date and so on,” he told Bernama.

Palanivel’s latest statement is his strongest indication yet that he is willing to take over the helm of the party which has 630,000 members.

“Only he (Samy Vellu) can decide on this. He has always been saying that and I have always told (him) that I am ready. The question of readiness does not arise anymore,” said the former journalist. — Bernama