Will Palanivel finally prevail?
by Dato’ T.Rajagopalu
THE DOUBLE-STOREY house in Bukit Beruntung that overlooks a valley is stacked with hundreds of files detailing former Hulu Selangor MP Datuk G. Palanivel’s work since he won the constituency in 1990.
Also in the house are files showing welfare support for the hardcore poor, scholarship applications and medical help given to many people when he was deputy minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development.
Potential candidate: Palanivel’s camp is hoping his hard work, sincerity and scandal-free life will help overcome any reservations
The files may be an authentic record of Palanivel’s work but unfortunately, they are of not much help as he fights to restart his stalled political career.
He is facing two issues – detractors in MIC who are unhappy with his rise to power and public perception that he had only warmed his seat as MP since 1990.
By far, the fight against public perception is more difficult to handle.
Public perception is everything in politics. Some leading universities in the world are advocating that public perception is in fact the political reality and hard work doesn’t mean a thing when public perception turns against you.
Palanivel, 61, a former consumer advocate with CAP who later became a journalist in Bernama, has a public relations problem which is a major handicap for a politician, no matter how hard working and scandal free he or she is.
Although he had won the constituency with big majorities since 1990, he lost to PKR Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad in the last election by 198 votes.
The defeat stalled his political career in MIC and raised doubts whether he would inherit the MIC from President Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu who has lead the party since 1979.
Palanivel fought off two challengers – former deputy Datuk S. Subramaniam and vice-president Datuk S. Sothinathan last October to retain his MIC deputy president post but it was a close fight.
That slim victory marked an uphill battle in his effort to restart his MIC career and inherit the party’s mantle when Samy Vellu retires later this year.
There is also market talk that Barisan Nasional is considering other candidates for Hulu Selangor besides Palanivel.
He was appointed the constituency’s Barisan co-coordinator to wrest the seat back from PKR when it was known that Zainal was very ill and was fighting for his life before he passed away last month.
Palanivel has a head start not just in preparing for the by-election but also as the constituency’s former incumbent, he knows the ground, the issues and Barisan machinery.
It is too late for Barisan to change horses and enter into a major fight with Pakatan which is marshalling all its resources to win.
Both coalitions want a big victory in Hulu Selangor as a forerunner to the next general election.
The Pakatan has heavyweights like Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and local boy Dr Halili Rahmat to choose from and its choice will be announced on April 13, two days before Barisan names its candidate.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak told the Selangor Barisan Nasional convention on Wednesday that the candidate would come from MIC and that once he had decided as Barisan chairman, he urged everyone to close ranks.
Speculation is rife that new candidates are being considered for the seat although the MIC top leadership has shrugged off the speculation.
They admit that Palanivel has a perception problem and that he is not an extrovert like Samy Vellu who can sing, dance, cry and hug his way into people’s hearts. Palanivel is too reticent for a politician.
He would have made an excellent academic, his aides admit.
But they also say political protocol and seniority are important factors to consider.
Palanivel is the party’s deputy president and heir apparent, they say, and the MIC Central Working Committee had selected him as its sole candidate.
“At stake also is the whole succession question. If he does not contest and win, then the MIC’s succession is thrown into confusion,” said a former MIC vice-president. “Samy Vellu cannot handover to a deputy who is not a minister and MP.”
Palanivel’s camp is hoping that his hard work, sincerity and scandal-free life would help to overcome any reservations. “It is better to bet on a safe horse than experiment with newcomers,” said a Palanivel aide.
They also hoped that voters would see the warmer side of Palanivel.
But public perception is hard to ignore and Najib has an unenviable task of weighing the pros and cons before deciding on the candidate.
But as it is, Palanivel has an advantage because of his track record and experience as a former MP compared with a newcomer especially when there is so much at stake in the by-election.
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