Sunday, March 9, 2008

Badawi, read the writing on the wall; release Hindraf leaders, quit politics

MIC - A new era begins
RK Anand | Mar 10, 08 1:35am
On March 8, MIC president S Samy Vellu turned 72. It was also the day the curtain fell on his political era.
After nearly three decades in power, the politician who commanded a cult-like following in his party was defeated in the fortress where he reigned for nine terms.
It was a cleansing of MIC's top echelon. The casualties included deputy president G Palanivel, vice-president S Sothinathan, Youth chief S A Vigneswaran and Women's wing chief P Komala Devi.
The party only managed to retain three out of nine parliamentary seats and six out of 19 state seats. The message was loud and clear.
According to Malaysian Indian Business Association (Miba) president P Sivakumar, this could signal the birth of a new era for MIC.
But firstly, he said, the party must conduct an in-depth analysis to determine the reasons behind its crushing defeat.
"When you fall, you must pick yourself up and look at the reasons as to why you fell so that you do not fall again," he told Malaysiakini yesterday.
Likening the damage inflicted on MIC to the destruction brought about by the Sept 11 terror attacks, he said it also served as a lesson for the younger generation of leaders.
The factors
Sivakumar said the first, and most important, factor which contributed to the devastation of MIC was the advent of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) and the wave of discontent it created.
On Nov 25 last year, some 30,000 disgruntled Indians took the streets to vent their frustration against the government and MIC, namely its president.
"These were not the voices of a few hundred, but tens of thousands of people. Many organisations also came out to help MIC and the government on this issue, but no immediate attention was given, except for some assurances," he said.
MIC - to the chagrin of the community - had also joined the government in condemning the Hindraf movement whose five key leaders are now held under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
Another factor, Sivakumar said, was the silencing and removing of dissenting voices in MIC, including Samy Vellu's former estranged deputy S Subramaniam.
"Thousands of Subramaniam's supporters were left in the lurch and they also expressed their anger in this polls," he noted.
Thirdly, the Miba president pointed out that the manifestos of the opposition parties, which stressed on equality, were also well received by the Indians.
"The Indian community is not questioning the special rights and the privileges accorded to the Malays, but just want their due rights and equal opportunities as citizens of this country," he said.
The future
On the future of MIC, Sivakumar said the most important issue to address now was unity in the party.
"MIC must look into the possibility of bringing those on the outside back into the fold in order to strengthen the party," he added.
Asked if this included Subramaniam, he responded: "Why not? He has a large following and he was the longest serving deputy president."
Subramaniam, whose ties with Samy Vellu had been strained for years, was defeated in the 2006 party polls by Palanivel, who was endorsed by the president.
Meanwhile, Sivakumar also stressed on the importance of MIC to craft a new image for itself.
"The party must break free from the image of violence and thuggery. It must become a party which is willing to accept constructive criticisms and feedback
"A conducive environment must be created to attract the thousands of well-educated and talented Indians in the community who prefer to speak freely about issues," he said.
"We need a large number of dynamic young minds to chart the future course of the party. More bureaus must be set up to look into the critical issues facing the community instead of leaving it in the hands of one or two think-tanks," he added.
Still relevant
Sivakumar also reminded MIC leaders that the younger generation of Indians are more aware of their rights.
In view of this, he said the party must create a leadership which blends the experience of the veterans with the dynamism and talents of the young.
On that note, the Miba president also stressed that MIC was still a relevant political force in the country.
"BN (Barisan Nasional) is still ruling the country, so MIC is still relevant. We must not forget that the founding fathers had entered into a social contract between MIC, Umno and MCA. MIC is still a good platform for the Indian community," he said.
Sivakumar advised the younger leaders in MIC to pay heed to the valuable lessons from this tragic episode for the party.
"Do not cull talents because of rivalry. MIC is a powerful party, talents must be nurtured and not expunged," he said, adding that the ball was now in the president's court.
"This is a new beginning for MIC. Samy Vellu's next step is crucial," he stressed.
Agreeing with Sivakumar, a party observer said the younger leaders must also realise that they cannot afford to ignore the voice and sentiments of the people.
"Samy Vellu had given the kiss of life to the political careers of the leaders in MIC and now he has taken it away. These leaders have learned, albeit bitterly, the true meaning of democracy," he said.
"From the ruins of yesterday, hopefully a new and more vibrant MIC will rise tomorrow. A party which the Indians will once again embrace," he added.

Samy's conqueror: It feels great!
RK Anand | Mar 10, 08 4:02am
A 'confluence of forces' had made it possible to defeat MIC president S Samy Vellu in his stronghold, said his victor Dr D Jeyakumar.
On Saturday, the 53-year-old physician staged a major upset by knocking out the 72-year-old politician on his birthday in the contest for the Sungai Siput parliamentary seat - which the latter held since 1974.
Asked how this felt, Jeyakumar replied: "It feels great!"
The Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) leader who stood under the PKR banner had contested against the MIC president and former works minister on two previous occasions.
This time around, Jeyakumar conceded that his opponent, whom he regards as formidable, had been weakened by other factors.
The PSM pro-tem central committee member also admitted that he did not expect to win. "We cannot take full credit for everything," he told Malaysiakini yesterday.
"We went in as the underdog but his (Samy Vellu) credibility had eroded terribly among the Indian voters," he said.
The MIC president's influence in the Indian community had waned in the wake of the Nov 25 rally organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).
Low-key campaign
Jeyakumar also acknowledged that Samy Vellu's campaign this time around was rather low key compared to the previous elections.
He said apart from the Hindraf factor, the work PSM had done on the ground in the constituency over the past decade as well as the hard work of the volunteers also contributed to his victory.
On top of that, he said the strong DAP candidate for the state seat and the cooperation from PAS also helped.
"The swing against BN (Barisan Nasional) was stronger than anticipated. BN has been taking the people for granted," said the PSM leader who saw an increase of support among all three races.
Jeyakumar, who is being flooded with congratulatory messages from all over the country, also revealed that he had received several death threats.
"We are concerned and are taking the necessary precautions," he said.
'We went all out'
On his plans for this term, Jeyakumar, who is still settling into his new role as a parliamentarian, replied: "I intend to bring the problems faced by the common man to Parliament."
"This elections has shown that ideology is still relevant," he added.
His wife and campaign manager R Rani said she was "delighted and overwhelmed" by the victory in what she described as "not an easy seat to win" due to the alleged underhand tactics employed by their rival.
However, the PSM pro-tem central committee member said that during the course of the campaign, there were positive vibes from all the races indicating the possibility of upstaging the incumbent.
"He (Samy Vellu) never expected to lose just like how we never expected to win," said Rani, adding that PSM "went all out" this time around.
Jeyakumar had defeated Samy Vellu with a 1,821 majority. In the 2004 polls, he lost to the MIC president by more than 10,000 votes.

Voters played the race card

Monday • March 10, 2008


IT was the day the Malays failed Umno.

The Malays — apart from their Kelantanese brethren — were to have been the Umno-led Barisan Nasional's (BN) last bastion of support even as the coalition braced itself for massive rejection by Chinese and Indian voters in the general election.

The conventional wisdom was that the Malays had no major quarrel with the government and would provide the votes needed to help Umno and the BN retain its two-third parliamentary majority as well as control of all local governments in most, if not all, states.

Yet, desert Umno the Malays did — in numbers large enough to enable the unthinkable to happen: BN losing control of the state governments in Kedah, Selangor and Perak to the loose opposition coalition comprising the Democratic Action Party (DAP); Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

The loss of support for BN from the Chinese and Indian communities were expected due to several reasons, from concerns over inflation and rising crime, which also affected the Malays, to worries over "creeping Islamisation" in Malaysia at the expense of the other religions.

And, of course, there was the "Hindraf effect".

The street protests led by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) might have started out with the goal of airing the Indian community's grievances but many Chinese could also empathise with their complaint that the country's pro-bumiputera policy has denied non-Malays fair access to jobs, education and housing.

But if the non-Malays' swing against the BN was expected, the Malays' considerable support for the opposition parties appeared to have caught even the Umno leadership by surprise.

Bread-and-butter issues aside, some analysts attributed it to the Anwar Ibrahim factor, crediting him with the ability to convince fence-sitters that Malay interests would not be neglected even if they were to vote the opposition parties.

Umno also had its own party infighting to blame for its losses.

In Kedah, Umno was divided into two camps, one led by supporters of former Premier Mahathir Mohamad and the other by former Mentri Besar Mahdzir Khalid. In several other states, many Umno members reportedly refused to campaign for BN candidates who had been "parachuted" into their constituencies.

Mr Ibrahim Suffian, the programmes director of the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, told the Malaysiavotes news portal: "From the dissolution of Parliament till Nomination Day, the bickering and horse-trading between Umno candidates started the erosion in Malay support.

"The attack on Anwar and the belated attempt to go on an offensive further pushed the Malay electorate away from BN."
Badawi refuses to resign after a stunning electoral reversal (The Hindu, March 9, 2008)
Kuala Lumpur (PTI): In a stunning electoral reversal, Malaysia's ruling coalition that had alienated ethnic-Indians failed to secure a 2/3 majority for the first time in five decades and was defeated in five states, prompting demands for premier Abdullah Badawi resignation but he remained defiant.
Badawi on Sunday said he will not resign as he is not under pressure to do so, the state-run Bernama news agency said after his predecessor and mentor Mahathir Mohammed joined the chorus pressing for his ouster following the Barisan Nasional's win in only 139 seats in the 222-member Parliament.
Badawi's gamble for a snap poll backfired as the coalition came up with its worst ever electoral performance, losing power in four out of 12 states for the first time-- Penang, Selangor, Kedah and Perak. The opposition retained its hold on the Kelantan state
The opposition parties together have won 82 seats compared to only 19 in the outgoing parliament.
Among the key losses to Barisan were the president of the Malaysian Indian Congress Samy Vellu, the lone ethnic Indian in the cabinet who had derided the street protests by the community against alleged racial discrimination.
The MIC won only three of the nine parliamentary seats and and seven of the 19 state seats allocated to it. The party was wiped out in the states of Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor.
The ethnic Indian voters, who form nearly 8 per cent of Malaysia's 27 million population, helped the opposition win more mixed seats, Jenison Jayasooria, Executive Director of MIC's think tank Yayasan Strategic Sosial said.
M Manoharan, one of the five Hindraf leaders held under a draconian security law that allows indefinite detention without trial for spearheading protests by ethnic Indians, won convincingly on DAP ticket.

He's staying, for now

Exclusion of 'favourite man' Radzi from the Cabinet may signal Pak Lah's exit: Analyst

Monday • March 10, 2008

Nazry Bahrawi in Kuala Lumpur

READ his lips: Pak Lah is not resigning.

"I don't know who is being pressured to step down, I'm not resigning," Malaysia Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told a news conference early yesterday, after his Umno-led Barisan Nasional suffered its worst defeat in nearly 40 years.

Despite his denial, several analysts believe that Mr Abdullah's resignation is inevitable — the only question is when.

Journalism lecturer and political observer Wong Chin Huat believes that Mr Abdullah will negotiate with the Umno leadership for a graceful exit. He said: "Abdullah may negotiate a dignified exit like Malaysia's first Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman did in 1969 — the first time the ruling coalition was denied a two-third parliamentary majority."

Arguing that there will be "enormous pressure" for Mr Abdullah to resign, political analyst Dr Farish A Noor of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said: "This election is a mandate for Abdullah and his performance for the past four years. Now, the Malaysian public has sent the message that he has failed."

Dr Farish also believes that Deputy Prime Minister and Umno deputy president Najib Razak will launch a more aggressive bid to secure his position as the next Prime Minister.

Mr Najib scored a personal triumph by securing a 26,000-vote majority in his Pekan seat in Pahang, an increase of about 3,000 votes from the 2004 polls. Mr Abdullah himself won his Kepala Batas seat with a reduced majority of about 11,000 votes, down from the more than 18,000-vote majority in 2004.

However, Dr Farish added: "Even if he (Najib) were to assume power, the Umno would still suffer a crisis.

"Its leaders have lost credibility."

Mr Wong believes that the shape of the new Cabinet — whether it will include those close to Mr Abdullah, such as his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin and Home Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad — will offer some clues as to when the Premier may resign.

Mr Wong said: "If he (Radzi) is out from the Cabinet, then it would be a strong indicator that Pak Lah is losing control. He is Pak Lah's favourite man."

As for Mr Khairy, "I would be surprised if he could get a full ministership. He would probably be brought in as frontbencher."

As Mr Abdullah grapples with his political future, another question on the minds of many will be whether the BN's loss of its two-third majority in Parliament will scare away investors?

Ms Tricia Yeoh, of the Centre of Public Policy Studies in Kuala Lumpur, said: "Investors are going to wait and see what is happening on ground level before making any decision." She believes investors will have a clear picture of Malaysia's new political dynamics only in about a year or so.

However, Mr Wong believes that the rise of opposition state governments in Penang, Kedah, Selangor and Perak may encourage even more foreign investments.

This is because the opposition parties would want the states under their control to be become a model of success so that they can win even more seats in the next general election, he said.

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