By Claudia Theophilus in Kuala Lumpur
Al Jazeera, MONDAY, MARCH 03, 2008
Malaysia's Indian community has accused the government of discrimination [Reuters]
A political awakening sweeping Malaysia's
ethnic Indian community could spell trouble for the in*****bent Barisan
Nasional (BN) coalition in the country's forthcoming general elections.
the first time, many Malaysians of Indian origin - particularly
those in lower income groups - are actively campaigning for the
opposition, a departure from the traditional support usually given to
the ruling coalition.
The swing has been triggered by the government's move to crush demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur in November last year to protest against alleged racial discrimination.
police fired tear gas and chemical-laced water cannon to disperse tens
of thousands of protestors, mobilised by the Hindu Rights Action Force
(Hindraf), in what was one of the biggest mass protest seen in the
country in decades.
then, many Indians have embraced "makkal sakti", Tamil for "people
power", as the battle cry for political change in the
elections, joining the opposition campaign to reject five decades of BN
Malaysia's resources are often allocated
along racial lines [Reuters]Internet-savvy
Indians, particularly younger activists, have embarked on an extensive
campaign of mobile text messaging, emails and blogs to express their
frustration with the government and to urge a vote swing.
want an end to what they say has been a spate of demolitions of Hindu
temples and discriminatory policies in education, business and housing.
Slightly more than half of Malaysia's population is ethnic Malay, followed by about 36 per cent Chinese and 8 per cent Indian.
Malaysia's political system is run along ethnic lines, with BN made up of 14 race-based parties and the core
parties of the coalition - the United Malays National Organisation
(Umno), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian
Indian Congress (MIC) - representing the three major ethnic groups
Indians say the unequal distribution of wealth has denied them their
rightful share of the economic pie, charges the government has
the Hindraf rally, many Indians have been campaigning to not only bring
down the BN, but also to deny Samy Vellu, the head of the MIC and the
de facto political leader of the community, a ninth term in office.
Jeyakumar said Malaysians should use
the ballot box to bring about change
The disfranchisement felt by many Malaysian Indians marks a significant shift in the country's political scene.
Ganesan, 31, who works in a private company in the northern state of
Perak, said the fact that many ethnic Indians had travelled from across
Malaysia to attend the Hindraf rally in Kuala Lumpur pointed to the
widespread anger among the community.
don't understand why the government is blaming us for demanding our
rights," he told Al Jazeera in Sungai Siput, the constituency Samy
Vellu has held since 1974.
"We must deny the BN a majority. If they have overwhelming support, we will be in trouble because they will come after us."
said most Indians were still angry that the government felt justified
in using force against protesters during the November rally.
"We know that the statements assuring Indians that temples will not be demolished is a mere eye-wash," he said.
"If the government takes care of its people, they will surely support it," he added. "If not, they will definitely oppose it."
Vellu's challenger, Jeyakumar Devaraj, a candidate for the opposition
Keadilan party, is trying for the third time to unseat the in*****bent.
doubt the Indians are very upset and I'm confident of a vote swing for
the opposition," Jeyakumar told Al Jazeera at his operations centre.
this is also the best opportunity for all Malaysians to show their
unhappiness with government leaders in other constituencies."
'Dent the armour'
Samy Vellu is the longest-serving
minister in the cabinet [AP]G
Kavitha, 32, a mother of three, conceded that the votes of
Malaysia's relatively small and widely scattered Indian community would
not be enough to change the government.
is more important is for Indian voters and the opposition as a whole to
put a dent in the BN armour," she told Al Jazeera in Sungai Siput.
"makkal sakti" grassroots movement may have caught on with the masses
of lower-income Indians, but many middle-class ethnic Indians are
still to be convinced that the ruling coalition has failed to deliver
on its promises.
S Muthu, a self-employed youth in the capital, says the BN has done "many good things for the people".
must continue to support the government so that our country can see
more development and become the best in the world," he told Al Jazeera
at an opposition campaign rally in Klang, about 30km south of the
is a message not lost on the government, with Malaysia's overwhelmingly
pro-BN press running numerous articles by prominent Indians including
wives of former politicians and young businessmen praising the
government for progress and stability.
central theme of all the articles is a call for Indians to "vote
wisely" for continued peace and to remember the benefits gained since
independence in 1957.
counter a strong vote swing in crucial seats, Abdullah Badawi, the
prime minister, has pledged fresh initiatives to help poor Indians
living in remote rubber plantations.
is not mere lip service," he was quoted as saying while campaigning in
his Penang constituency. "It is a serious promise and we will do it."
to a gathering of local Indians he assured them that he would deliver
"all that you ask for" if they return BN to power.