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Do or die battle for MIC

Contributed by Anonymous on Sunday, February 03 @ 19:12:03 CST

By BARADAN KUPPUSAMYThe Star, Monday, Feb 04, 2008
Speculation is rife as to how the MIC will perform in the coming general election after recent events which have had a huge impact in the Indian community. However, those expecting the party to face a thrashing may end up being surprised. THE MIC faces the biggest challenge in its history as a political party as the general election approaches and as it tries desperately to recoup ground lost after the Hindu Rights Action Force rally on Nov 25.

While it was factional fights and internal squabbles that wrecked the party before, this time the unhappiness is from outside the party; from a community the MIC has represented all these years. The MIC can claim to have helped the upper and middle classes of the Indian community but it is the Tamil masses that feel that they have been left behind. The Tamil masses form the bulk of the voters in the Indian community and they have traditionally backed the Barisan Nasional while the educated classes often dallied in opposition politics. But they form only a tiny minority. Without the Tamil masses rooting for it, the MIC is like a head without its body. The head consist of 3,000 branches and about 30,000 core members over whom MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu can still lord. But the body has become detached. It is with the core membership that Samy Vellu has been holding court trying to show Barisan leaders that he is still a man to be reckoned with. However, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is no fool. He has called leaders of independent Indian NGOs, many of them critics of the MIC president, and heard their grouses. “It was an eye opener for the Prime Minister,” said one of those who spoke up at the meeting. The crux of the matter now is not whether the Tamil masses will vote for the opposition but what is the downside for the Barisan from a major swing in Indian votes, which seems likely. Not only are some dozen or so Barisan seats affected but also most of the nine parliamentary seats and 19 state seats where the MIC will be contesting. In these seats, Indian votes form an average of 15% of the vote – not enough to make a mark on its own but enough, in alliance with the DAP and PKR and to a lesser extent PAS, to upset the apple cart. At the very least, affected Barisan leaders are burning the midnight oil trying to convince Tamil voters that they have always been there for them and that their grouses are not with them but with others. In Perak, Penang and Kedah where the Tamil anti-establishment sentiments are most visible, Barisan representatives are working through the night visiting homes, temples and even attending rallies to win and keep Tamil loyalty. On paper, the statistics can look scary. However, local factors will come into play to blunt Hindraf’s appeal. For instance, MCA’s Datuk Yip Phooi Yong is called the “Buntong Tiger” for his closeness to the Indians in Buntong. This time he is expected to challenge DAP's M. Kula Segaran, also very popular with Indian voters, for the Ipoh Barat parliamentary constituency, a contest that will be hot and likely to divide Indian loyalty. To make the best of a lousy situation, Samy Vellu is again juggling with his perennial “young and energetic” theme for his slate of candidate. He is expected to drop many aging veterans like Datuk G. Rajoo of Perak and Datuk V. Saravanan of Kedah. Their replacements however are mostly party functionaries and are unlikely to excite and win back the Tamil masses. To some sections of the Tamil masses, Samy Vellu has long overstayed his welcome. However, backing an MIC without Samy Vellu and under a new leader becomes a possible option for them. If Samy Vellu quits now, the air will drain out of the Hindraf balloon and the MIC will have a breather, many experts say. But Samy Vellu is determined to “refurbish” himself and all eyes will be on the Sungei Siput constituency which he has held since 1974. “We are determined to defeat him in Sungei Siput,” said Kula Segaran who is trying to persuade either Hindraf leader P. Uthayakumar or DAP lawyer M. Manoharan – both in detention under the ISA – to stand against the MIC veteran. Ironically, the constituency has a Chinese majority, with the community forming 41% of voters. Malays and Indians form sizeable minorities along with the Orang Asli, who make up 5% of the electorate. Samy Vellu, however, is no pushover and will fight tooth and nail. This is because a defeat would be a sorry end to a life-long political career that started some 60 years ago and which saw him dominating Malaysian political life. K. BARADAN is a freelance journalist who writes on politics and business for various international publications.



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