Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ethnic Indians to vent at the Malaysian polls

Malaysia's ethnic Indians to vent at the polls

3:32 - 14/02/2008

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By Clarence Fernandez

TANGKAK, Malaysia (Reuters) - On Malaysia's lush green rubber estates,
Indian labourers whose ancestors were broughtby British colonial
rulers in the 19th century to work in tin mines and on plantations,
complain of being marginalized.

Indians, one of the smallest ethnic groups in Malaysia making up just
seven percent of the population, say they have been left behind as the
country's Muslim majority and ethnic Chinese population reap the
rewards of economic prosperity.

Race relations, a sensitive subject in Malaysia since race riots in
1969 underscored the fragility of its fragmented ethnic makeup, have
become tense recently as non-Muslims fear their freedom of worship is
being infringed upon and complain of government favouritism towards
the majority Malay community.

With a snap election expected to be held early next month,ethnic
Indians are threatening to use the ballot box to vent frustration over
the failure of government policies to improve their living standards
and incomes.

"In the papers every now and then, the government says itis going to
do things for us, but nothing happens here," said Anand, the third
generation of his family to work on a palm oil plantation at Tangkak,
about 200 km from Kuala Lumpur.

"So the government doesn't do anything for estate workers,being
Indians. If they were not Indians, maybe Malays orChinese, the
government would have done something for them."

The Muslim-majority Malays make up about 60 percent of the population,
while ethnic Chinese, who dominate the business sector, account for
about 25 percent.

An examination of monthly household income of all three ethnic groups
shows Indians are lagging behind, with average annual growth of just
3.5 percent over the five years from 2000, compared to 3.6 percent for
Chinese, and 4.9 percent forMalays.

Issues that have grated on the community include a stringof temple
demolitions that aggrieved many Indians who felt civic authorities
rode roughshod over their sentiments, and squabbles over Hindus'
rights to bury relatives who converted to Islam.

Analysts say Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's ruling coalition
is certain to win re-election with a healthy majority, but the growing
unhappiness among the ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities is worrying
the political parties in the grouping.

The Indian community has usually voted for Abdullah's Barisan Nasional
coalition as the best guardian of its interests.

But that feeling has changed after the government cracked down hard on
a demonstration by more than 10,000 ethnic Indians in November, using
tear gas, water cannon and police batons to break up the protest,
which aired charges of race discrimination.

The demonstrators complained of being deprived of education and
employment opportunities.

The government used a harsh internal security law to detain five
protest leaders without trial, further fuelling Indians'anger at the
Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a party in Abdullah's coalition, for
what they saw as its failure to protect them.

The outrage has continued to simmer, with Indians meeting at "People
Power" gatherings in temples to fast and pray forthe release of the
prisoners, who belong to a group called the Hindu Rights Action Force,
or HindRAF.


In Tangkak, one rubber tapper said she would vote against the MIC to
help dislodge its leader, Works Minister Samy Vellu,calling him out of
touch with poor Indians. Vellu has been a cabinet minister since 1979.

"We will make a difference not by approaching people personally, or
doing a protest, but by quietly giving the vote to the right people so
it shows up in the numbers," said Ayamma, 48, who wakes up at 4 a.m.
each day to spend seven hours collecting about 80 litres of rubber sap
from trees on a leased plot.

The MIC, with 620,000 members, says the criticism that it has done
little to improve the job and educational prospects of Indians is
baseless but has vowed to reshape itself to serve the community

Even if the entire Indian community chose to vote for the opposition,
the government would still maintain a majority.

"Their number is too small to make a significant difference,"
political analyst Zainon Ahmad told Reuters.

Opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim said opposition parties stood to gain
by tapping into the Indian voters' discontent.

"The minorities are really, really angry, and in the caseof Indians
that will certainly translate into votes," Anwartold Reuters, adding
that the opposition would do its best towoo them with an attractive
line up of candidates and electionagenda.

Abdullah's government has sought to calm ruffled feelings by boosting
funds for Tamil schools and agreeing to along-standing request for a
public holiday on the key Hindu festival of Thaipusam.

But ethnic issues are certain to be at the heart of the election as
both ethnic Chinese and Indians complain of discrimination and
favouritism towards the Malay majority.

The workers in Tangkak are particularly bitter as they see others
enjoying the trappings of wealth from a burgeoning economy and soaring
prices of palm oil, which is in demand as a biofuel.

"There are many Indians among the plantation workers who have helped
to make the sector a success," said Anand, the plantation worker,
adding that his salary had grown to 13.50ringgit ($4) a day from 6.50
ringgit when he first began workin 1980.

"So why have they not been given a share of the remarkable
achievements of all these years?"

($1=3.238 Malaysian Ringgit)

(Editing by Megan Goldin)

1 comment:

DIASPORA said...

Despots; Cheats; Looters of people's Funds; Liers; Bluffers; Money Launderers; Drug Distributors; Politicians with Ulterior motives will SURELY FALL.

It is only the Date and Time that is not readily available to anyone.

Nature and the Universe know how to deal with those who upset the fine balance of Nature and the cosmic consciousness,