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Monday March 23, 2009

Not a sure thing anymore

A seemingly sure seat for Pakatan Rakyat in Bukit Selambau has suddenly become doubtful with the Makkal Sakthi movement dead against PKR’s novice candidate.

IT looks like “the others” are already fighting the battle for a Barisan Nasional victory in the Bukit Selambau by-election long before polling on April 7.

For one, the Makkal Sakthi (People’s Power) movement is against PKR’s fresh-face candidate S. Manikumar, 35, whom Pakatan Rakyat leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced on Friday.

The opposition to Manikumar started as a small protest by about 30 people but has since widened into an ultimatum by Makkal Sakthi national co-coordinator R.S. Thanenthiran — drop Manikumar or face the consequences.

“We have given Anwar an ultimatum … he has to drop the candidate by today (Monday) or face protest and lose Indian voters,” Thanenthiran said yesterday.

His ultimatum was published in the Tamil dailies and is the talk of the Indian community.

“We will meet soon to discuss our next step if Anwar does not drop the candidate,” said Thanenthiran, the public face of the banned Hindraf and the Makkal Sakthi movements.

He came into prominence after the five Hindraf leaders were detained under the ISA and had criss-crossed the country campaigning for the Opposition during the March 8 general election.

His name was top on the list of 18 people that the PKR had short-listed but the announcement of Manikumar shocked the Makkal Sakthi people.

“He is not a local, has no experience in politics and is unsuitable to be a candidate. He is an outsider as far as we are concerned,” said Thanenthiran who had also lobbied hard to be the candidate.

PKR is unlikely to drop Manikumar, who although a novice, is a double degree holder from Universiti Utara Malaysia and has a successful business dealing in cars, oil palm and quarrying.

He is also very articulate in local loghat or Kedah Malay and is well liked by PAS members whose votes are crucial to win the seat which is 50% Malay, 30% Indian and the rest Chinese.

Several of the leaders in the PKR list who were dropped are also upset and had boycotted the function to introduce Manikumar.

They are expected to undermine the Pakatan campaign unless Anwar reaches out directly to them and patches up and not leave the problem to fester.

Banners and posters have also come up in the constituency proposing other Kedah PKR leaders as an alternative to Manikumar.

But about 50 PKR Indian supporters also staged a counter protest yesterday condemning Makkal Sakthi supporters and urging the people to unite and focus on defeating Barisan Nasional.

A series of SMS text messages are widely circulating condemning Anwar’s choice as a betrayal of Makkal Sakthi and Hindraf.

Some SMS had alleged the improper behaviour by Manikumar, who will be facing MIC’s Datuk S. Ganesan, including a police report that was lodge against him some weeks back.

Manikumar when contacted yesterday denied any improper behaviour. “I have never been contacted by police over any matter,” he said adding that some “rotten apples” claiming to be Makkal Sakthi leaders were trying to ruin the Pakatan chances in the by-election.

“I am a local. They are all outsiders. We should unite and defeat Barisan and not fight among ourselves,” he said adding that the dissatisfaction, if any, was only among “2% or 3%” of the people.

One reason for the deep dissatisfaction and escalation of acrimony is that the Pakatan winner automatically be made an executive councillor, the post vacated by former assemblyman V. Arumugam, who won as an independent and later joined PKR.

Although voter sentiments generally still favour the Opposition, the Makkal Sakthi leaders can inflict considerable damage if they field an independent and rally around him.

Insiders said negotiations are underway among them to field either Thanenthiran or ISA detainee Vasantha Kumar as an independent if Anwar does not drop Manikumar.

Thanenthiran, however, denied “as of now” that contesting as an independent was an option.

“We can still avoid all these problems by dropping Manikumar and field a local boy acceptable to the Makkal Sakthi and Hindraf movements,” said a former Hindraf coordinator close to Thanenthiran, who asked for anonymity.

“There are many people here (Kedah) who have sacrificed personally for Anwar and for PKR in general,” said the leader claiming that Manikumar was picked because of intervention by a businessman close to Anwar.

Manikumar has denied this. “I was chosen entirely based on merit and on my potential as a PKR leader,” he said.

PKR leaders strongly feel that voter would understand the need to select a candidate who is “young, educated and clean” even if he is considered an “outsider” by the Makkal Sakthi movement.

While they fight over the choice of candidate, the Malay and Chinese voters who form nearly 70% of the 35,000 electorate and have a bigger say in the by-election outcome, are watching from the sidelines unsure what the fight is all about.

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