Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Hulu Selangor: Why did Samy jump the gun?
The incumbent Zainal Abidin Ahmad passed away last Thursday and by Friday afternoon, the MIC top man was sending out media statements that the party would nominate its deputy president G Palanivel as the candidate.
This move caught many by surprise, including veteran politicians, as the action of the MIC president was out of the norm, with some considering it "bold and drastic which would certainly irk the top Barisan Nasional leadership".
"Obviously, his move strays from the norm. The usual practice is to submit three names from the party to the BN leadership. The PM (Najib Tun Razak) and DPM (Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also BN's director of election operations) will then decide and announce the candidate one or two days before the by-election nomination.
"But this time Samy Vellu jumped the gun... it is obvious that he is not willing to be dictated on who to pick and all. But the bigger picture here is that he did not want Umno to start clamouring for the Malay majority seat.
“I do not know if this strategy would work but it has certainly sent a message to Umno and BN which is MIC would not give-up the seat," said a MIC leader who declined to be named.
Umno keen on contesting
The Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat is traditionally contested by MIC, under the BN banner, and was at one time considered to be the BN's safe seat. The seat was however lost at the 2008 general election after Zainal beat Palanivel by a razor-thin 198-vote majority, compared to the whopping 14,000 vote majority win recorded by Palanivel at the 2004 general election.
Sources revealed that Umno was keen to swap this seat taking into account the majority Malay votes in the constituency. The Malays constitute 52.17 percent or 33,961 voters of this seat which has about 63,000 voters. The Chinese make-up 26.1 percent or 16,915 voters, Indians - 19 percent or 12,549 voters while others 2.2 percent or 1,437 voters. The seat has about 1,000 Orang Asli voters.
The seat has three state constituencies - Hulu Bernam, Batang Kali and Kuala Kubu Baharu - with all three seats won by the ruling BN at the 2008 general election. The Hulu Bernam and Batang Kali state seats are held by Umno assemblymen while the Kuala Kubu Baru seat is in the hands of a MCA representative.
"It is true that Umno wants the seat but it is unlikely that the BN top leadership would give it to Umno, simply because Palanivel has been on the ground from the time he lost the seat two years ago. It was an open secret that Zainal was ill over the last two years and has been in and out of hospital.
"Zainal's inactiveness in looking after the people of the constituency due to his ill health gave Palanivel the advantage. While he might be an ineffective MIC deputy president, he had proven to be an effective MP.
"He (Palanivel) has been regularly visiting the constituency, meeting people and organising programmes. Furthermore, he was a three-time MP for Hulu Selangor prior to the 2008 elections. He would make a good BN candidate to fight for the seat," said the MIC source.
Party sources also said that Palanivel would certainly be a suitable candidate for the by-election as he was accepted by the grassroots of Hulu Selangor and that he only lost the seat at the 2008 election with a slim majority.
"It would be easier for him to win back the seat taking into account the slim majority loss. He would be the candidate if endorsed by the prime minister and this is very likely taking into account Palanivel's close relations with Najib," said a source.
Was Samy trying to sabotage him?
However, while Samy Vellu seems to be backing his deputy to contest the seat, internal politics suggests otherwise with some political observers now asking if the MIC president was trying to sabotage Palanivel.
"Since the party polls in June last year, Samy Vellu and Palanivel do not see eye-to-eye. This is known by all in the party. Why should Samy Vellu name Palanivel as candidate when he has openly said he made a mistake by backing Palanivel for deputy president at the MIC elections.
"Is he trying to bury the hatchet? Well, I don't think so. Naming Palanivel is a double-edged sword. On one side you show the Indian community that you are standing-up to the political masters, in this case Umno. On the other hand you anger the BN top leadership and Umno, forcing them to change the candidate if they are not agreeable thereby dropping Palanivel from the list.
"If that happens he can turn around and tell MIC members and Indians that it was not his fault MIC was not contesting the seat... he is a veteran and experianced politician with more than 50-years of political blood...do you really think that he is a fool to announce Palanivel's name without thinking of the repercussions," said a MIC observer.
Party insiders also said that if Palanivel were to contest and win the seat he would be holding a higher post in MIC than Dr S Subramaniam, who is the sole MIC minister and party vice-president.
The bigger picture
"You have to see the bigger picture...Samy Vellu who is president does not have a parliamentary seat. The most senior people holding parliamentary seats in MIC are the vice-presidents (Subramaniam, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department SK Devamany and Federal Territories and Urban Well-being Deputy Minister M Saravanan).
"If Palanivel wins the seat and is given a government post, where does that leave Samy Vellu who is without even a parliament constituency what more a government post. I feel Palanivel's win and a government post would hasten Samy Vellu's retirement, which is imminent in the next two years," said the party insider.
Meanwhile, another issue which needs the attention of the top BN leadership is to pacify local Umno members and leaders alike to cooperate with the BN election machinery to wrestle back the Hulu Selangor seat.
"Umno also wants the seat because they feel that the Malays are back with BN. While this is true, an Umno candidate does not necessarily guarantee Malay votes.
“This, I feel would be a drawback, because the opposition would use this as an issue in campaigning. They will tell Indians that MIC is subservient to Umno.
"This will spoil the Indian votes, which is coming back to BN. As for the Chinese they are equally divided for BN and the opposition," said the source.
The Election Commission is set to announce the nomination and polling dates on Friday.