Umno, MIC square off for Hulu Selangor

By Adib Zalkapli (Malaysian Insider)
KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 — Umno and MIC are locked in a tussle to field their candidates in the coming Hulu Selangor by-election, with both former mentri besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib and Datuk G. Palanivel being touted as possible runners.
Umno’s Hulu Selangor division has confirmed to The Malaysian Insider that they are hoping a candidate from their party would be fielded as the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate, while MIC has already nominated Palanivel.
Palanivel, a former deputy minister of welfare and family development, had been Hulu Selangor MP from 1990 until his defeat in Election 2008 by PKR’s Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad, whose death last night triggered the by-election.
Speculation is rife that BN might give the seat — with a significant Indian vote — to Umno, and will provide a different seat to MIC in the next general elections.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is likely to stick to PKR contesting the seat that Zainal Abidin won with a wafer-thin majority of 198 votes in the last elections. But the party is keen to present a strong candidate to keep the seat and stem its loss, following the departure of four federal lawmakers, who are now independents.
The Malays make up 53.9 per cent of the more than 60,000 voters in the constituency. The Chinese vote pool there stands at 26.7 per cent, and Indians, approximately 19 per cent, while other races are at 0.41 per cent.
It is understood that, with the Malay vote evenly split, PKR is hoping to retain the Indian support that it received in Election 2008.
Umno division sources told The Malaysian Insider today the party grassroots are confident of a landslide victory should Muhammad, who served as mentri besar from 1986 to 1997, be fielded.
“If we want to emulate our success in Bagan Pinang, a mature candidate is very much needed, and the people of Hulu Selangor will definitely give him a grand welcome,” said a Hulu Selangor Umno committee member, who spoke anonymously.
He added that it is unlikely for Muhammad to decline a request to contest.
“He has been in the struggle for a very long time. If he knows this will strengthen Umno and Barisan Nasional, he will not say no,” he said.
Muhammad previously served as the representative of Batang Kali — one of the state seats in Hulu Selangor parliamentary constituency — from 1982 to 1995.
He left mainstream politics a year ago, after losing his bid for the Umno deputy presidency to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
In the Bagan Pinang by-election last October, Umno fielded party veteran, Tan Sri Isa Abdul Samad, and won the Negri Sembilan state seat by a majority of more than 5,000 votes, in what was BN’s first by-election victory in peninsular Malaysia since Election 2008.
“If Tan Sri Mat Taib is fielded, we will win big. The problem is, this is a by-election, so it is hard to change the quota,” said the local Umno man, referring to the seat allocation arrangement in BN.
“Alternatively, if it is not possible to let Umno contest (now), maybe the leadership can consider giving it to us in the next general election,” said the Umno leader.
He blamed the narrow lost to PKR in Election 2008 as a result of allocating the seat for MIC.
“In every branch meeting, there will be demand for the seat to be given to Umno. I guess in 2008, the protest reached its peak,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
Hulu Selangor Umno division chief, Datuk Mohamed Idris Abu Bakar, when asked about the possibility of Muhammad’s comeback, said it was not unusual as local leaders have been asking for the seat to be allocated for Umno.
“It is not just about Mat Taib, there are many other names, but for the Umno members, of course they want a Malay candidate,” Idris said.
He added that the Umno division would not be submitting any names to the leadership, as Hulu Selangor remains MIC’s unless instructed by the Malay party’s national leadership.
Despite winning the parliamentary seat, PR lost all the three state seats in the Hulu Selangor constituency in Election 2008.