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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

> Here comes the next MIC President

by R.K.Anand

The debonair politician looks dashing in a crimson shirt as he strides into the finely decorated living room of his lavish bungalow in Petaling Jaya for another interview.

As the clock ticks down for the MIC elections, one of the party's most recognisable faces is being hounded by the media of all languages.

While his critics may accuse him of numerous misdeeds, one thing that even they cannot deny is that the man ages gracefully. And although S Subramaniam turns 65 next month, the father of three does not look a day over 50.

During a casual chat with journalists, Subramaniam quipped that his youthful appearance may also be a sore point for his political nemesis, MIC president S Samy Vellu.

"That is why he tells people that I go around like a mapillai (bridegroom)."

Whether or not there are superficial differences between the two, one thing is for certain. Their political differences is legendary.

For nearly three decades, the president has tried every trick in the book to make him disappear, but Subramaniam always reappears.

When Subramaniam lost in the 2006 deputy presidential elections, Samy Vellu thought he had finally vanquished his foe. Two years later, the 2008 general election returned Subramaniam to the forefront of politics.

And come Saturday, he will attempt to reclaim his No 2 post in the party and realise his dream of helming MIC.

Four-cornered fight

While the incumbent G Palanivel is embroiled in a three-way battle, Subramaniam said he sees himself and to a certain extent the third challenger S Sothinathan as being in a four-way fight.

Why? Because "the biggest campaigner happens to be Samy Vellu."

The MIC president has openly endorsed Palanivel and has been urging the some 1,400 party delegates to cast their ballots in favour of his line-up to ensure stability.

So as far as Subramaniam is concerned, this is actually shaping out to be a battle for the top post itself.

"The president is battling me. He is the one who has come into the fray. The president is getting involved so deeply, so it must be seen as almost a contest for the presidency. It is his team, endorsed team, official team. What does it mean?

"My time is taken up to respond, reply and explain to the delegates these unfounded allegations that are being made by the president."

Given the recent developments, Subramaniam said he sometimes regrets not taking on Samy Vellu for the presidency but claimed that it was not fear which stopped him.

"Because now he is behaving like a candidate (for No. 2). I wish I had contested against him and had the opportunity to tell where he had not performed and where he went wrong.

"He is not a candidate, he is trying to be one. He is campaigning against me. It was not fear. I made it (the decision not to contest against him) in the interest of the party.

"Many urged me to contest, but I said 'No' because the party was weak (after the general election) and I did not want to cause any problems in terms of the strength of the party."

'There is no feud'

Subramaniam also denied that he has an axe to grind with the president, saying it is the latter who is always picking a fight.

"There is no feud. As far as I am concerned, I am not starting a feud. But of course the president is trying hard to draw me into a war of words and all sorts of controversies. But I am prepared to face him anytime, anywhere."

Despite the obstacles, Subramaniam, whose clarion call is 'Change for the Better' is confident of winning this election and possibly even becoming the next president.

"I have a very strong response from the delegates, because they are interested in seeing change, a change for the better in MIC.

"This is a critical election. The delegates must choose the right person, not only as deputy president but in the event he (the president) steps down, (the elected candidate) takes over the leadership."

While Samy Vellu is toying with the idea of staying on for a few more years, Subramaniam wants him to stick to his promise.

"He said on the day he was elected (in March) that he will retire after the deputy presidency is filled. I hope as a leader, he will keep his word."

Commenting on the president's reluctance to bid farewell just yet, he said: "Probably he thinks 30 years (as president) is not enough... he continues to claim that his services are required... some say he wants to put his son (Vel Paari) in a proper place (in the party before retiring)."

Although Samy Vellu has acknowledged the need for changes and has embarked on a re-branding of the party, Subramaniam however to a "arge extent" agreed with the view that for any transformation to be effective, the president has to step down.

And when asked if this means the president should throw in the towel, he replied: "I hope he has the heart to do it. That is the reality on the ground."

On whether Samy Vellu will be receptive of his victory, Subramaniam stressed that the former has no other choice but to accept the decision of the delegates.

"It is not the president's wish to accept or not accept, It is the delegates who decide and it is the (party) constitution that is binding on everybody."

'I've never dabbled in caste politics'

Subramaniam also vehemently denied that he has exploited caste organisations, which he terms as social organisations, for his political advancement.

On this issue, he challenged the president to a debate to prove this allegation.

"I dare him to say this in the debate he challenged (me to) and I accepted. Fix it quickly. Because I have never dealt with any social organisations for my political success.

"He is probably the user (of caste politics)... he is probably is the user and that's why he thinks others are doing it."

As for money politics, Subramaniam said nobody has accused him of attempting to buy votes from the delegates.

"I have not heard any accusations against me... I don't have the evidence (that others are doing it). But I hear that some money is being handed over..."

On why the delegates should choose him, the veteran MIC leader argued that he has the best experience among the contestants to ensure that the party is ushered along the right track.

Furthermore, he said he carries no baggage.

"I have never amassed any wealth. I have nothing to worry about. The community knows all this."

Responding to the speculation that Sothinathan's bid for the deputy presidency is an orchestration to break his votes, he said: "Many people have told me that. Many people have asked me that. I really don't know what is going on between Samy Vellu, Sothinathan and Palanivel."

"As I see it, my votes cannot be split. It will be a solid vote. Sothi (right) cannot split my votes."

Subramaniam also explained that the change he is espousing relates to transformation for the betterment of the party and not otherwise.

"When I talk about change, it is to change for the better. Change alone is not good enough because you can change for the worse. So if they (the delegates) elect me, it will be a change for the better.

"I will liberalise the party further. I will (provide) greater freedom for members to express their views. Whether I agree or disagree (with the views), I will hear them out.

"Basically, the change must be something where party members are given new hope, aspirations and direction. The party must be a united and strong party."

Should Subramaniam not succeed in his bid, will he quit politics?

He replied firmly: "The question does not arise that I will not succeed. As of now, I am confident that I will succeed." - Malaysiakini.