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The ‘quiet kid’ of Teluk Kemang 

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The ‘quiet kid’ of Teluk Kemang

RK Anand | Mar 6, 08 11:53am

In his younger days, S Sothinathan never imagined that he would journey into the unhallowed realm of politics.

Even his former neighbours find it hard to believe that the quiet kid next door has rose up the ranks to become a deputy minister.

Sothinathan himself thought that he would end up as a lawyer or businessman.

sothinanthan teluk kemang 050308 generousBut destiny had grander plans for the Port Dickson-born lad who recalled going to school without a single cent in his pocket at times.

In 1999, the man considered by MIC members to possess the ‘Midas touch’ – party president S Samy Vellu – appointed Sothinathan as his political secretary and thus altered his fate.

The 47-year-old politician is now a vice-president in MIC, the incumbent for the Teluk Kemang parliamentary seat and deputy minister of natural resources and environment.

But the father of three insists that he never harboured much interest in political ambitions or positions. “It was entrusted upon me,” he told Malaysiakini when met in Port Dickson on Tuesday.

“Now, I just want to do my best to serve the people,” he added.

sothinanthan teluk kemang 050308 susyAnd according to his former neighbour R Susy, who has known Sothinathan since his youth, this is exactly what the politician has been doing.

“He is a nice man who has helped many people. But those who do not like him will say all sorts of things,” said the 52-year-old housewife whose family lived next to Sothinathan’s in a squatter settlement.

“He came from a very poor family. He was always a quiet boy who helped his mother a lot. Back then, we never thought that this kid would become such a big shot,” she added.

Susy also said that Sothinathan and his family have always been modest. “He never changed, he is still that quiet boy. His family is also humble and down to earth.”

Indian votes

While she is confident that the MIC vice-president would retain his seat, she however expressed concern over the sentiments of Indian voters.

She said opposition ceramah held in the seaside town – which is flooded with election posters – have been drawing a large Indian presence.

Echoing a similar view was G Asokan, 29, who works in a popular eatery in the heart of Port Dickson.

“It’s going to be tough. The people who come to the stall always talk about how the Indians are going to vote for the opposition this time around,” he said.

sothinanthan teluk kemang 050308 approachHowever, a policeman, attached to the local district police headquarters, predicts only a marginal swing as far as Indian votes are concerned.

“It is mostly the youths who are angry and the majority of them are not even registered voters. So what difference is it going to make?” he asked.

He also said Sothinathan would win based on the support from the Malays and Chinese who are the majority races in the constituency.

“As for the Indian votes, the opposition would have stood a better chance if they had fielded an Indian candidate.

“Some of the Indians are also worried that if the Malay PKR candidate wins, Umno would take the seat away from MIC in the next elections,” said the policeman who has been in the force for 32 years.

Strong support

Another voter, who wished to be known only as Lim, also affirmed that the incumbent commands strong support from the various races.

teluk kemang parliamentary seat“I agree with some of the issues raised by the opposition and so do many other Chinese voters here. But sometimes the candidate also matters. We have no problems with Sothinathan, he is very hard working,” said the 51-year-old businessman.

“But it is a different story with the Indians. They are not happy after the Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force) protest in Kuala Lumpur,” he noted.

Teluk Kemang has 60,186 voters. Of this, 40.6 percent are Malays, followed by Chinese (36.1 percent) and Indians (22.2 percent).

MIC and its leaders have come under intense pressure since the Nov 25 rally organised by Hindraf which drew some 30,000 disgruntled Indians to the streets.

Following this, speculation is rife that a large number of protest votes would be cast in favour of the opposition.

But Sothinathan remains unperturbed. He is confident that the local Indian community would support him come polling day on March 8.

“I have been on the ground and did not encounter any problems. The support from the community has been good. There could be isolated cases, but we are not concerned,” he said.

For the future, the incumbent said he wanted to work towards improving the infrastructure and beaches in the Teluk Kemang constituency.

“We need to build more good roads, and many projects are already ongoing,” he said, adding that being a local he has seen the development over the decades and chided the opposition for suggesting otherwise.

Despite his ministry’s office being located in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, Sothinathan continues to stay in Port Dickson, shuttling to and fro on a daily basis.

Asked why, he replied: “I grew up here and this is a better place to call home. It also allows me to be closer to the constituents.”

Hardcore poor

kamarul baharin abbasSothinathan also took a swipe at his PKR opponent Kamarul Abbas Baharain (right) for stating that the Barisan Nasional (BN) government was for the elites.

Citing himself as an example, the MIC leader said: “I am not an elite. I was from the hardcore poor group.”

“Both my parents were rubber tappers and I grew up in an estate before moving to a squatter area when I was studying in university.

“My parents always emphasised on the importance of education, and it is with sheer hard work and with the help of the government in terms of loans that I came up in life,” he added.

During his campaign trail on Tuesday, Sothinathan travelled far and wide addressing Chinese voters in the risibly named Tarzan estate and later Orang Asli voters in a remote enclave where even rubber and oil palm trees were not spared by the parties in their poster war.

He repeatedly stressed to the voters that the government cares for all the races and that the opposition was making unreasonable promises because it knows it cannot form the government.

He also accused the opposition of playing the racial card. “They tell one thing to the Malays, another to the Chinese and something else to the Indians.”

In return, the locals voiced out their grouses which ranged from the absence of streetlights to only air coming out of their water pipes.

Remain united

Addressing Indian voters at a function later in the night, Sothinathan cautioned the community on the perils of going against the government and also launched a verbal salvo against PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim.

“We must address the problems from within. The government would not listen if we shout from the outside. We are a small community and must remain united,” he stressed to a rousing applause.

opposition ceramah s17 pj 270208 anwar ibrahimSothinathan also told his audience that he had seen many Indians carrying the PKR flag and posed the question: “But who is their leader? … Anwar Ibrahim.”

“He held many important positions before. He was once the deputy prime minister. But what did he do for the Indian community?

“Now, can we believe him when he says he wants to help the Indians when he is no longer in power?”

In the 2004 elections, Sothinathan defeated his PKR opponent Abdul Manap Sahardin with a majority of 17,777 votes. This time around, it is a three-cornered fight involving an independent candidate as well.

Asked if he believes that such a handsome win could be replicated, the incumbent replied: “I would leave that in the hands of my constituents. I believe I have given them my best. But there’s still more to be done, and I would do it.”

The ‘quiet kid’ of Teluk Kemang


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