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The referendum on Samy Vellu

Contributed by Anonymous on Sunday, June 04 @ 12:05:04 CDT

 Baradan Kuppusamy
Jun 3, 06 12:28pm Malaysiakini
Off The Edge in its June edition has front-paged G Palanivel, the challenger for the MIC deputy president post, and asked the big question: Is this the new leader of Indian Malaysians?

Inside, the magazine published eight pages of a very revealing question & answer interview with Palanivel, usually a reticent man careful with his comments but now opening up to contributor Eddin Khoo and magazine editor Jason Tan with some very candid and revealing answers.

So, is he the next leader of the community?

Is he the person who will take over from the garrulous and combative Samy Vellu whose credit with the community is at an all-time low?

The same question that the magazine posed is also on the minds of MIC members, especially the 1,500 delegates who will vote and decide the next deputy president on June 24.

The delegates have a choice - to re-elect in*****bent S Subramaniam who has been deputy for nearly 27 years or embrace Palanivel, a newcomer to the post, the man who has been preparing for this big battle since 1990, the year Samy Vellu picked him to contest the Hulu Selangor parliamentary constituency.

Publicly, Subramaniam is asking delegates to give him another chance at the job promising to work closely with the president.

Privately, he is telling delegates if he is re-elected he will force Samy Vellu out, by his resignation, and reshape the MIC into a caring, accountable and transparent and people-oriented party.

His supporters say MIC has become the family property of one man, Samy Vellu, who has bent and shaped the party to his will.

It is a party shaped and fashioned to respond to one man’s whim and fancy, one supporter said. There is zero space for criticism and different opinions in MIC.

There is no debate at all. One man sets the tune and everybody else dances to it, another Subramaniam supporter said. 'How long more do we have to put up with this monologue?’

Not an idle threat

Palanivel, on the other hand, is touring the country meeting delegates and promising continuity in the MIC leadership, stability and full support for all of Samy Vellu’s social development programmes.

Palanivel promises new blood, new projects to uplift the bottom 40 percent of the Indian community. Above all, he promises stability, continuity, change and survival of the MIC system that is the system of structures, procedures and methods that its members are familiar with.

A Subramaniam victory signifies chaos in the MIC, Palanivel supporters are telling delegates.

Samy Vellu himself is telling voters what the choices are. It is either me or him (Subramaniam), says the president.

Subramaniam is therefore contesting two leaders in the same election.

He is fighting Samy Vellu and Palanivel, said a MIC insider. He is also severely handicapped because the entire party machinery is against him.

Subramaniam can’t meet delegates the way Samy Vellu or Palanivel can, and are, meeting.

Most delegates avoid Subramaniam like the plague for fear that Samy Vellu will close down their branches on one pretext or another after the election.

This is not an idle threat but a real one and is a method used not only by Samy Vellu but also by earlier MIC presidents to cement their hold on the MIC.

The downside of such a stranglehold is that while leaders might campaign and newspapers might wage war on each other, for many delegates, the question of who to back in the election is already a decided issue.

There are Samy Vellu supporters and Subramaniam supporters in MIC and in years to come there will be Palanivel supporters - that is the nature of MIC politics.

Currently, Samy Vellu’s supporters are the majority and they are expected to back Palanivel no matter the campaign issues or the newspaper war.

But these delegates have their worries.

‘What kind of leader will Palanivel turn out to be?’ is the question some Samy Vellu supporters are asking.

Although Palanivel has a track record as a god-fearing hard worker with clean habits, his politics is still unknown. How power sits with him and what direction he will take MIC in is also largely unknown.

Palanivel has a different style compared to Samy Vellu’s fire-breathing tactics.

Palanivel does not sing or dance or entertain. He is all business, all modern and all work.

‘He has to go’

In contrast, Subramaniam is a known quality. He has been in the party for over three decades and his politics is a known factor. His strengths and weaknesses are known and accepted. There are no more surprises that can come from this man.

Let us not forget that Subramaniam is also presidential material, he has contested twice against Samy Vellu and lost narrowly, a supporter said.

Will voters prefer the familiarity that Subramaniam represents or the change and dynamic new vision that Palanivel promises?

Although Samy Vellu's credentials in the Indian community are down, his chips in the MIC are up. He enjoys near total support largely because he has fashioned the party to his will and has progressively killed off dissent.

He is expected to deliver Palanivel a big chunk of his votes that will help the challenger cross the magic point of 750 votes to victory.

We expect Palanivel to get anywhere between 200 to 300 votes on his own accord thus ensuring a comfortable victory, one of his close aides said.

On the other hand, Subramanian’s team maintains that it is a close 50-50 fight and victory can go either way.

By all measures, the in*****bent deputy president faces an uphill task but ask any ordinary Indian and nearly sseven out of 10 will say that Subramaniam is winning the battle.

Ask how they know the outcome and the astonishing reply often is unrelated to the contest. ‘Samy Vellu has to go!’, they would say.

A doctor friend has an explanation for this discrepancy.

People dislike Samy Vellu so much that they want Subramaniam to win even if he is clearly losing, the doctor said.

The negative perception of Samy Vellu is too deeply ingrained, says this doctor. In their wish to see the back of Samy Vellu, they wish that Subramanian wins just to rub Samy’s face in the mud.

In the newspapers meanwhile, it is Samy Vellu who dominates the center stage not Subramaniam or Palanivel.

It is Samy Vellu that everyone is criticising and attacking as well as demanding that he resigns. This election, in the twilight of Samy Vellu’s career is shaping into a referendum of his 27-year grip on MIC.

Going back to the question posed by Off The Edge, Is this the new leader of Indian Malaysians?

Well, that all depends on the outcome of the June 24 elections.

BARADAN KUPPUSAMY is a veteran Malaysian journalist. This is the fourth of a special series of articles on the coming MIC elections.



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