Friday, July 3, 2009

Wooing the Indian Malaysian vote

By Deborah Loh

ON 25 Nov 2007, the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) burst into public consciousness through a mammoth street rally. Few doubt that Hindraf was pivotal in swinging Indian Malaysian votes away from the Barisan Nasional (BN) three months later in the March 2008 general election.

On 2 July 2009, Malaysiakini reported that Hindraf has submitted an application to the Registrar of Societies to found a new party known as Parti Hak Asasi Manusia (Paham).

But apart from Hindraf, the emergence of other Indian Malaysian political parties is a trend that warrants attention. All claim to want to represent and improve the lot of Indian Malaysians. What does this say about the community itself? And what impact do these divisions have on BN and the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)?

A few months before Hindraf, there was the Malaysian Indians United Party (MIUP) started by Datuk KS Nallakaruppan, a former Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) stalwart and close friend of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

This year saw the birth of Hindraf splinter group, the Malaysian Makkal Sakthi Party (MMSP), and the Malaysian Indian Democratic Action Front (Mindraf) founded by former journalist Manuel Lopez.

And in PAS, the party's supporters club has seen the Indian Malaysian faction, which outnumbers Chinese Malaysian members, demand that the club be split according to racial lines.

Developments in the community's political scene will shape the battle for Indian Malaysian votes in the 13th general election due in 2013. Already, there are early and subtle signs that the ground is shifting.

Moving quickly

Consider a few things which have happened since 3 April 2009, when Datuk Seri Najib Razak became prime minister.

The Tamil press play up criticisms of the PR by Hindraf leaders, though the organisation is banned. In Penang, Hindraf is butting heads with the DAP-led state government on behalf of Kampung Buah Pala residents whose land is to become the site of a luxury housing project.

People protesting for release of Hindraf leaders
Hindraf protestors (© The Nut Graph)

About two weeks after Najib took office, former Hindraf national coordinator RS Thanenthiran met with the premier to talk about the Indian Malaysian community's grievances. By this time, two Hindraf leaders had already been released from Internal Security Act detention in one of Najib's first moves as premier. Three other leaders would later be released on 9 May.

Thanenthiran confirms with The Nut Graph that he met Najib, remarking that his predecessor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, did not once entertain Hindraf's requests for a meeting or acknowledge their memorandums. A month after the meeting with Najib, Thanenthiran launched MMSP.

On the ground, BN has not wasted time wooing the community, according to reports in the Tamil press.

Take the Cameron Highlands constituency, for example. Its Member of Parliament Datuk SK Devamany says, in a phone interview, that since April, two Tamil schools have received RM500,000 and RM700,000 each. Indian Malaysians have also been promoted to head a primary school there, and the local Drainage and Irrigation Department.

Indian Malaysian sentiment towards the BN government also appears to be on the uptrend although it is still early days in Najib's administration.

In the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research's 2008 fourth quarter poll on Peninsula Malaysia sentiment, 56% of Indian Malaysians surveyed disagreed when asked if Najib would make a good prime minister.

In another poll in May 2009, the first survey since Najib became prime minister, 64% of Indian Malaysians said they were satisfied when asked about his performance as premier.

Divide and conquer?

Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, the former executive director of MIC's Yayasan Strategik Sosial, says the emergence of different Indian Malaysian political parties indicates that the community still feels sidelined from the mainstream economy. This discontent gives room to individuals with the means and backing to start new parties.


Another cause is the lack of grassroots leaders who can identify with the rural and plantation communities in a way that western-trained leaders like PKR vice-president R Sivarasa or the DAP's Charles Santiago cannot. Denison says these leaders are not seen as representatives of the Tamil grassroots, and believes this played a part in allowing Hindraf, and parties like MMSP to rise.

Najib's tacit acceptance of MMSP by meeting them indicates his seriousness about winning back the non-Malay Malaysian vote. Denison observes that Najib knows BN cannot afford to be over-protective of MIC, which is embroiled in infighting and is no longer able to defend its position as the main representative of Indian Malaysians.

And while things appear quiet with MIUP and Mindraf, Najib only needs to engage the most attractive alternative to the illegal Hindraf.

As such, the speed at which MMSP's registration was approved in May, three months after its application, gave rise to talk that the fledging party had the BN's backing and funding.

Thanenthiran denies this and when asked again, said: "It is not important whether we support BN or PR but that we work with the party that is doing things to help the Indian [Malaysian] community."

He claims that MMSP, which has over 30,000 members now, is self-funding.

The party has been given further legitimacy by BN, even though it is not part of the coalition, through a campaign launched in early June to find stateless Indian Malaysians—- those without birth certificates or MyKads. MMSP is tracking these cases through announcements in the Tamil press and through its grassroots network, and is forwarding the individuals' details for the National Registration Department's further action.

Structural change

The political divisions among Indian Malaysians may be beneficial to BN, but problematic for PR which is still learning the ropes of state administration and coalition politics.


Petaling Jaya City councilor A Thiruvenggadam, who is from PKR, feels that PR could be doing more to fill the void by introducing faster changes in certain policies.

He says the PR-led Selangor government still has not dismantled past BN policies on the procurement and awarding of contracts, which, he says, still favour Malay Malaysians. He has also angered his party leaders for going public with claims of political interference in certain council dealings, and knows he is likely to be dropped when the state government announces councilors for the new term in July.

"The Selangor PR government is still adopting all the BN policies of the past to favour one community. We are seeing BN giving aid to Tamil schools and temples but PR is doing nothing to change such policies. Indian [Malaysian] support for PR will reduce if PR doesn't correct this," he warns in an interview.

Devamany's picture
(pic courtesy of
BN, being in federal power, has the resources to court the community. But structural change is also underway, promises Devamany, who is Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and whose portfolio includes policies on Indian Malaysian community issues for the Economic Planning Unit.

"The government is aware that piecemeal handouts to Tamil schools and temples are insufficient," he tells The Nut Graph.

Changes in education, civil service recruitment, poverty eradication, housing, and wages, among other areas, must take place with the results documented to give visibility to the government's efforts.

Devamany, who sits on the cabinet's sub-committee on Indian Malaysian affairs, says this must be done because people still believe "the government doesn't help non-Malays".

Personality vs community

Denison notes that the history of Indian Malaysian political parties has been fraught with splits and the formation of new parties. MIC has faced competition for Indian Malaysian membership even from parties in the BN fold or those friendly to BN, such as the People's Progressive Party, Gerakan, the Indian Progressive Front, and the Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma).

"It can be taken as a sign that the Indian [Malaysian] community is most active politically. They are in every party, whether pro-BN or pro-PR. Their common problem, however, is that these parties tend to be personality-based which explains the splits and emergence of new parties," he notes.

Denison believes that Indian Malaysian parties have to change from being personality-driven to community based.

"The truth it, Indian political activism in Malaysia has not thrived unless there are other races to help it," he says, noting that just as MIC cannot go it alone without the rest of the BN coalition, PKR too, needs a multiracial platform to survive.

"I don't think Indian [Malaysian] unity is necessarily the way forward," he says.

But who eventually wins over the Indian Malaysian vote in the coming elections is still left to be seen.

Hindraf Protest at DAP HQ Ipoh

Are pigs more valuable than humans? - Malaysiakini

Does DAP care more for pigs than humans?

This is the question posed by Kampung Buah Pala villagers in Penang who are now counting the days to the deadline for their eviction from the area which has been earmarked for development.

kg buah pala 020709 villagers protest 02Describing it as 'double standards', village residents' association chairperson M Sugumaran chided the DAP-led state government's response to their predicament.

"Is this rule of law?" he thundered when speaking to reporters. "Is this justice, fairness and equality regardless of race and religion?"

"Are pigs more valuable... more important than humans? Are we worse than pigs?" he added.

He was referring to Kedah DAP's decision yesterday to pull out from the state Pakatan Rakyat coalition following a series of misunderstandings, the latest being the demolition of an illegal abattoir for pigs.

'War will erupt on Aug 2'

This morning, some 100 villagers, including women and children, had gathered at the entrance of the village to prevent representatives of the developer - Nusmetro Venture (P) Sdn Bhd - from entering the area.

kg buah pala 020709 bailiff stick court orderTempers flared when they spotted Numesto executive Gary Ho Yuen Kong arriving with court officials and policemen at about 11.30am.

A small light strike force unit was also deployed to prevent any untoward incidents while the bailiffs posted the writ.

The villagers started to shout at Ho as he entered the village. Calm was restored by the police after Ho left the area.

The villagers however refused to receive the notices of the writ, forcing the bailiffs to paste them outside their houses.

The writ gives a two-week deadline for the villagers to vacate their houses to pave the way for the lucrative Oasis development project.

kg buah pala 020709 developer representativesThe state government, which has come under intense fire over this issue, has already requested the developer to extend the grace period until Aug 2, in an effort to find an amicable solution.

Sugumaran warned the developer that the villagers would not surrender their homes at any cost.

"Our resistance today would have given the developer a clue that we not going to give up our land. It's going to be a war come Aug 2, unless the state government can end our woes," he said.

Whose side are you on?

Joining the fray, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary-general S Arutchelvan said everyone wants to know which side state government leaders will be when the developer's bulldozers roll in.

psm visit to kg pala 020709 02"Will they be on the villagers' side defending the people's rights against the rampaging developer?

"Or will they be on the developer's side protecting capitalist interests?" he asked after visiting the area.

Arutchelvan said Kampung Buah Pala was an organised traditional Indian village that must be preserved by the authorities as a state heritage.

"It is not a squatter settlement as claimed. "It's a living cultural and economically vibrant village of 200 years," he added.

Indicating that the state government cannot hide behind the Federal Court ruling to wash its hands over the crisis, he said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng should find a political solution.

Guan Eng warns developer not to play hard ball

Chief Minister Guan Eng has issued a warning to Nusmetro Ventures after the Oasis developer’s “highly irresponsible and inflammatory” threats yesterday.

Meanwhile, the state investigative committee needs to quickly get to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding the questionable sale and land transfers. What has happened to the villagers’ report to the MACC?

The State Government will not take a single cent of the so-called “goodwill payment” from the developer unless the kampung Buah Pala residents agree to the compensation.

The Penang state government warns Nusmetro Ventures (P) Sdn Bhd, the developer of the proposed housing project in Kampung Buah Pala, for threatening to send bulldozers in by August 2 to forcibly evict residents and demolish their houses as highly irresponsible and inflammatory. It is highly improper to stoke fear into the villagers’ hearts by reminding them that they will have to move out by Aug 2 when the one-month grace period given by the developer expires and there will be “no more extensions”. The one-month grace period was negotiated by the state government with the developer to find a solution to the problem.

Nusmetro claimed to have offered the highest compensation in the state from RM140,000 to RM260,000 to the temporary occupation of land (TOL) holders as well as their immediate and extended families. And even offered one of the two cattle ranchers there RM330,000 including a five-year rent-free deal for land in Balik Pulau which was rejected.

To say that the developer has the legal right not to pay anything to the residents just because the developer has a Federal Court order, would not assist in resolving this problem. Instead of all the cruel talk about bulldozers, the developer should continue to seek solutions that works towards a win-win situation for all parties. For this reason, the state government will not take a single cent of the “goodwill payment” proposed by the developer to the state government unless the villagers of Kampung Buah Pala agrees to the compensation.

I wish to reiterate that the state government has nothing to do with the eviction, or the Federal court order and the bringing in of bulldozers to demolish the houses. Instead the state government had intervened to prevent the eviction of the residents since last year. Even though this is a court order obtained by the developer, the state government would continue to work aggressively to try to assist the villagers.


Kugan case proceeds ... without a judge!

The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: The judge might have been away, but this did not stop the prosecution and the defence from arguing their case in the High Court here Thursday.

It was supposed to have been the first day of hearing for the return of documents, tissue samples and bodily fluids of suspected car thief A. Kugan who died while in police custody, but Justice Muhamad Ideres Muhamad Rapee was away in Kedah.

Nevertheless, the prosecution and the defence carried on with their arguments before a stunned court official.

Senior assistant registrar Azlinda Ahmad Sharif tried to intervene to explain that she could not hear any kind of arguments in the absence of the judge, but her words were drowned out by the heated exchange between Deputy Public Prosecutor Noorin Badaruddin and defence lawyer N. Surendran.

The war of words between the two started when Surendran asked Noorin to clarify her grounds to get the case thrown out on technical grounds.

Noorin replied that there was no need for her to do that as the prosecution’s ground had been clearly stated.

Surendran insisted that he must be given specific grounds to enable him to reply.

Noorin then repeated that the three grounds of the prosecution’s objection have been clearly stated.

However, she said she would “happily” provide further clarification if needed.

In the end, no order was given on the matter as the exchange between the two was not considered a real proceeding.

The hearing was postponed to July 15.

Kugan’s mother N. Indra, 41, who was also present Thursday, had filed a notice of motion and a supporting affidavit through her lawyer for the return of his samples on May 28.

Indra is asking the High Court to set aside and/ or cancel a search warrant issued by the Petaling Jaya Magistrates Court for the search and seizure at the pathologist’s office on April 6.

Outside the courtroom, Surendran hit out at the Attorney-General for the delay in prosecuting whoever was responsible for Kugan’s death.

“We hold the A-G responsible because the power to prosecute is his,” he told reporters.

He said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz’s statement that the authorities were waiting for the results of a probe carried out by the Malaysian Medical Council should not have any bearing on the issue.

The probe, he said, was on the professional conduct of the first pathologist and had nothing to do with finding out who was responsible for Kugan’s death.