BN candidate P Kamalanathan, with his wife Shobana
“CALL him Abang Kamal,” says Umno member Abdul Razak Baba, referring to the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s Hulu Selangor candidate P Kamalanathan, when visiting Bukit Sentosa on 19 April 2010. Abdul Razak is not from Hulu Selangor, but he is accompanying Kamalanathan in the Malay Malaysian majority area. He instructs Umno members to call Kamalanathan’s wife, Shobana Subramaniam, “Kak Zulaikha“, which means “beautiful” in Arabic.
Shobana, wearing a baju kurung, draws appreciative comments for her choice of dress from some Malacca Umno members who have travelled to Hulu Selangor for the by-election. “Nanti lepas menang, boleh pakai tudung,” one of them joked.
The BN candidate, however, does not introduce himself to reporters as “Kamal” or any other name. “Don’t call me YB, my name is Kamalanathan,” he says.
But who is Kamalanathan, and what promise does he bring to Hulu Selangor?
A relative unknown
Umno members’ attempts to give Kamalanathan some added character may stem from the fact that he is relatively unknown in the area. The MIC information chief was a compromise candidate after the party’s deputy president Datuk G Palanivel was rejected as a candidate. Hence, the BN machinery has been scrambling to introduce their new candidate to the constituency.
In the first few days of campaigning, only a handful of posters with Kamalanathan’s image were put up, reflecting, perhaps, the uncertainty surrounding the BN candidate. Even later in the week, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s image was still the most prominent face on BN posters. Speakers at a BN ceramah on 19 April 2010 in Sungai Buaya also hardly mentioned Kamalanathan, preferring instead to attack Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and other Pakatan Rakyat leaders.
“Kena letak gambar calon,” Seri Bakawali Umno division chief Rashidi Ramli tells each Umno division he visits, while handing out posters of Kamalanathan. After several stops, a campaign member belatedly decides to tape Kamalanathan’s poster to his car bonnet.
Kamalanathan seems aware of being relatively unknown, telling The Nut Graph that his main priority is to meet as many people in Hulu Selangor as possible and make them his friends. He brushes aside a question on the Internal Security Act, which reportedly was the reason his opponent Datuk Zaid Ibrahim resigned in protest as a minister.
“I don’t want to talk about Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, I just want to talk about P Kamalanathan to my friends in Hulu Selangor,” he says.
Kamalanathan also declines to elaborate on policy issues such as race-based versus needs-based affirmative action, saying he would look at these matters at the appropriate time. “For me, my number one objective is to win this for BN. To meet as many people as possible, to tell them what BN is all about,” he says.
If making friends is Kamalanathan’s main campaign objective, he certainly seems cut out for the job. The 44-year-old public relations consultant arrives for his early morning breakfast in Bukit Sentosa on 19 Apr 2010 with a bright smile. He warmly shakes everyone’s hands, and sportingly agrees to be photographed making roti canai while bantering with reporters: “My wife is laughing so hard, this is the first time I’m doing this.”
When asked about Kamalanathan’s strengths as a potential Member of Parliament, his MIC colleague also acknowledges his likeable nature. “[Kamalanathan] has a clean image … He’s a very approachable person. Most of the MIC [people] warm up to him as soon as they get to know him. He can mix with anyone — the bigshots, the roadside vegetable seller, anyone,” MIC Youth national assistant secretary Premnath Agamutu tells The Nut Graph.
Premnath adds that as MIC information chief, Kamalanathan has spearheaded the MIC’s rebranding efforts. He is known in the party for bringing in the use of new technology and engaging with the new media.
Makkal Sakti supporter Sridaran Krishnasamy, who was present at one of the BN booths, also praises Kamalanathan. “He’s the best person. He’s the best choice, that’s why [Datuk Seri] Samy Vellu chose him. His heart is open to everybody. He’ll work for people. He’s in public relations,” Sridaran says, when asked why he’s supporting Kamalanathan.
But while a winning smile and charming personality may go a long way towards gaining votes, more will be needed to address Hulu Selangor’s long-term issues. Bukit Sentosa and Bukit Beruntung are full of abandoned projects, shop lots and run-down, half-empty low-cost residences.
Kamalanathan acknowledges this. “I have seen myself, there are so many [abandoned] development [projects],” he says.
Abandoned shoplots in Bukit Sentosa
Although he appears to have a general idea of what the area needs, his proposals are vague for now. “First, I have to understand why these projects have been abandoned, even I don’t know,” he says. “This place is beautiful. It leads to Fraser’s and also to Genting Highlands. We have to find ways to increase the different activities around this area. [For example, providing] accommodation, so if you want to go to Fraser’s, perhaps you can stay here a day before going there.”
What voters want
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) supporter and Hulu Selangor voter Letchumy Raju tells The Nut Graph of the hardships she and her fellow residents in Taman Bunga Raya face.
“Whatever race, we all don’t have anything,” Letchumy says. “Our children have to travel far to go to school. My three children sometimes don’t go to school because we don’t have enough bus fare. My husband finds it difficult to get a job around here.”
When asked about her impressions of the BN candidate, she responds, “Tak pernah tengok dia.” She says she and her husband have tried to ask for help from the MIC, but they did not receive any assistance, hence their support for PKR.
Which brings us to the question many may be asking about Kamalanathan. Even after he gets around to figuring out concrete solutions to Hulu Selangor’s issues, will he be able to push the Umno-dominated BN government to implement them? Especially once the incentive of winning the by-election has been removed?
And as nice and friendly as he may seem, can he be trusted to “champion national unity and foster cultural diversity” as promised, while being part of a race-based party?
Although it’s early days yet, the signs at the moment are not entirely promising. When asked by The Nut Graph whether Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin‘s “Malay first” remarks would pose a hindrance to fostering national unity, Kamalanathan replies, “The best thing is you should ask [Muhyiddin], we all have an opinion, I have my opinion. I’m just concentrating on winning this election.”
Given his other evasive responses on important issues of policy and his reported defence of Perkasa, Kamalanathan’s campaign so far fails to answer the question — if he’s elected, what exactly will he stand for and do?
On the Hulu Selangor trail
Irrelevant PR rhetoric
Is Zaid’s drinking relevant?
Campaign delusions and contradictions
Hulu Selangor’s significance
What will Kamalanathan do?
Hulu Selangor’s four-corner fight
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