Vellu comfortable on home turf in Malaysian poll

February 29th, 2008 - 1:27 pm ICT by admin  

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 29 (IANS) “I drew the plan for the mosque and it will look like the Taj Mahal,” Malaysian Indian leader S. Samy Vellu says of the Al-Gufraniah mosque to be built in Sungai Siput, his parliamentary constituency since 1974. “The government has approved RM7 million (about $3 million) for it,” he says as he shows the artist’s impression of the mosque to the crowd gathered at his election meeting.

He assures them that the project would be awarded to local contractors.

Beyond this, Vellu, who is Malaysia’s works minister, refrains from making any pre-poll promises, saying this is against the election law.

Vellu, 71, is on his ninth bid to parliament that he has said would be his last. This is in response to demands that he has been too long a minister, combining the post of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) president.

Sungai Siput, which Vellu served for 34 years, was earlier represented by the MIC’s founding father V.T. Sambanthan.

The MIC is Malaysia’s largest party of ethnic Indians, numbering close to 2.5 million, about eight percent of the 27 million population that has majority Malays (over 60 percent) and ethnic Chinese (around 32 percent).

The MIC has been part of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence.

Rising expectations among the predominantly Tamil Hindus, who form the backbone of the MIC’s support base, and a campaign by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), an unregistered body that has courted controversy by staging rallies banned by the government, have made Vellu’s task difficult.

Vellu does not refer to Hindraf unless asked at his meetings and merely urges people to apply their minds while voting.

He told a meeting Thursday that he had been cautioned against eyeing the constituency.

“But I told my critics that this is a traditional MIC seat. I am not a coward and would rather fight and lose here,” The New Straits Times quoted Vellu as saying.

The newspaper followed him on his poll campaign through the constituency. He touched upon the RM40 billion ($18 billion) petrol and diesel subsidies extended by the government he represents. He urged voters not to be duped by the opposition’s “sweet talk”.

He began the day by having toast and coffee at his favourite caf

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