MIC is heading for a major internal conflict which could see the party change its president after the next general election, say insiders.
KUALA LUMPUR: Two Saturdays ago, MIC president G Palanivel made the startling announcement that his predecessor, S Samy Vellu, would be the coordinator for Barisan Nasional’s election campaign in Sungai Siput.
The announcement came at the tail end of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s visit to the constituency and was reported only by Tamil Nesan, a daily run by the family of the former MIC strongman. It gave no details.
What would Samy Vellu’s role be in Sungai Siput? How is he going to play a part in winning back the constituency, which he held for 34 years until Dr Michael Jeyakumar of Parti Sosialis Malaysia beat him in the 2008 election? Will the appointment increase support for the ruling coalition?
These are among the many questions needing answers from Palanivel. But none has been forthcoming from the media shy party president. Samy Vellu, too, has been silent on the matter.
Sources say the former president will call a press conference to clear the air on the appointment as soon as he sorts out some groundwork in Sungai Siput. So, for the time being, observers are left to wonder and speculate.
On the surface, the reason for Samy Vellu’s re-entry into the party mainstream seems to be that his influence in Sungai Siput is needed for MIC to win back the seat. However, talk on the ground says there is more than meets the eye.
The theory offered by grassroots leaders is that Samy Vellu has been brought back in order to bring about the ouster of Palanivel, whom some see as a lacklustre politician.
A MIC division leader said the decision to let Samy Vellu run the Sungai Siput show indicated that support for Palanivel was going downhill and that Najib did not think he could deliver the constituency to BN.
He said it was part of a “greater plan to kick out Palanivel” and inject new vigour into the party, which many see as having become lethargic of late.
“Having Samy Vellu run the BN machinery in Sungai Siput has its significance,” said the source. “It gives him a chance to rub shoulders again with the MIC grassroots. He is still very influential in the party, especially among grassroots leaders.
“He says he is out of the party; so he will not issue any statements regarding the party, but he still maintains close relations with branch and division leaders. They are the ones who will vote to pick national leaders at the party election next year.
“Almost all MIC leaders are waiting for the general election to finish. After that, it’s going to be a free-for-all. We predict contests for all positions at the national level, including the president’s post.”
But some insiders say Samy Vellu will not make a comeback into MIC mainstream. They believe he would back a group of candidates to fight for party positions at the party elections scheduled for the middle of next year.
MIC is unique among Malaysian political parties in that it holds its presidential election three months ahead of elections for other party posts—that of deputy president, three vice presidents and 23 central working committee members.
“Samy Vellu will nominate his own candidates and back them during the election,” said one insider. “This will apply to all posts, including the presidency.”
He said Samy Vellu had several reasons to be unhappy with Palanivel, who once was his press secretary.
“Firstly, Samy Vellu wanted Palanivel to stand out as a political leader, which the current president has failed to do.
“He also wanted Palanivel to continue with his policies. Again, the incumbent failed. The former president is still sore that members he expelled have been brought back into the party.
“These reasons form just the tip of the iceberg. There are more.”
According to the insider, the undercurrent of bad feelings is strong. MIC leaders, especially at the grassroots have been constantly complaining to the former president about Palanivel.
The former president also knows Palanivel has promised many people that they would be nominated as candidates in the coming general election but is not likely to be able to deliver on all of the promises.
“When you as the president promise something, it has to be carried out,” said the insider. “When those who are promised seats do not get them, then they will sabotage or pull out. They will not be actively canvassing for votes. This is damaging.”
Another matter annoying Samy Vellu, some quarters claim, is Palanivel’s choice of candidates, especially for state seats.
“He wants to give seats to his supporters no matter how bad they are,” said one party source. “Some can’t even converse properly in English or Bahasa Malaysia, much less write properly in the two languages. We even hear of a leader from Kajang being promised a seat in Batu Caves.”
A well-connected source told FMT that the drive “to push Palanivel out” had been endorsed by the top BN leadership. “They are now finding ways to do it,” he said. “All will be known after the general election.”
FMT has also learnt that several members of the MIC top brass had been told to be ready for a change at the top after the general election.
“Palanivel is supposed to be helping Najib win back Indian votes, but it looks like Najib is doing this on his own,” said a source.
“Samy Vellu is now appearing at functions attended by Najib more frequently. Instead of Palanivel or his deputy Dr S Subramaniam taking the limelight, it is now being hogged by the former president.
“If Palanivel stays the way he is, then he will drown. I can confidently say Palanivel’s end as president is near. Someone strong will take him on and he will lose the party election.”