Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Indian vote in Malaysia


Opinion: Doing the right thing to win the Indian vote

The Malaysian Indian Congress is doing its best to garner votes for Barisan Nasional come election day. But it has a tough fight ahead, writes M.K. MEGAN.
MALAYSIAN Indians have been receiving a lot of attention recently - positive and negative.

Negative attention rose after the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) initiated an illegal assembly on Nov 25.

The positive was when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced at a gathering at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton Indoor Stadium in Cheras last month that the Thaipusam public holiday would be extended to Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Then, on Feb 3, at the MIC's one-day special convention at the Putra World Trade Centre, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak pledged to do more for the Indian community.

Meanwhile, Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo is organising a massive registration exercise for those without birth certificates and identity cards, many of whom are Indians.

How well are these initiatives being received by the Indian community?

Observers and delegates to the MIC's special one-day conference two Sundays ago saw them not only as election promises but also as an attempt by the party to draw the majority of the Malaysian Indian votes to the Barisan Nasional in the upcoming general election.

Indian support for the BN, as is being widely talked about in the community, has dwindled, especially since Hindraf's illegal rally.

Some claim that 70 per cent of Indians are against the MIC; others say it is now 50-50.

This is by far the most challenging election for MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu and the party.

His challenge is to deliver 80-90 per cent of the Indian votes, as in the past.

The illegal rally by Hindraf put Samy Vellu and MIC in bad light, as it sought to highlight problems facing Indians that Samy Vellu and the MIC allegedly had not addressed.

The Feb 3 convention, according to delegate S. Sivanesan, was an attempt by the MIC to convince Indians that the BN is still the party that will look after their future, that many of their grievances were being attended to by the BN, and that many more benefits were in the pipeline for the community.

"Samy Vellu always says he fights hard in the cabinet for the rights of the Indians," said K. Segaran, a delegate from Port Klang.

"Samy Vellu has been in the cabinet for more than 22 years, yet many things have not been attended to. Maybe he is not presenting the cases convincingly enough to the cabinet."

Datin Paduka P. Komala Dewi begs to differ.

"I have known Samy Vellu for being the people's man. Anyone can SMS him anytime and he will personally respond to their messages.

"If any Indian has a problem, be it housing, education, funding for any purpose, the first person who comes to his mind is Samy Vellu."

The Kapar MP pointed out that every week, Samy Vellu meets some 500 people with various problems.

Federal Territory MIC chairman and national information chief Datuk M. Saravanan said MIC needed an experienced leader like Samy Vellu during crucial times, especially when the opposition was exploiting allegations that the Indian community had not been well looked after.

He said Samy Vellu had the experience and ability to counter the opposition and even party members who refused to toe the party line.

With the country gearing up for the general election, Saravanan said, Indians should focus on the election and not squabble among themselves.

R. Gnanasakaran, an MIC member from Klang, said the party had to take the brunt of the blame if the Indians' support for it was waning.

"They have been sitting on the issues plaguing Indians for a long time," he said.

"It is not that the government did not want to address issues like the demolition of temples, but it is the MIC that was not pro-active."

M. Singaravel, 56, branch chairman from Perak was apprehensive.

"We are convinced by the pledges made by Najib, but how are we to explain to the grassroots? I don't think they will understand."

He said he was even afraid to go house-to-house to campaign in the coming election.

"The Indian people's emotions have been stirred by the Hindraf rally and they are still angry and hurt. It will be difficult to ask for votes for BN candidates."

While Najib received accolades from the frontliners at the convention, especially MIC branch chairmen, there remains resentment among many Indians.

Some of the comments doing the rounds in the lobby after the convention sounded very much like Hindraf's grouses.

"Indians are hurt over what has been happening over the last few months," said conference delegate A. Paskaran.

"It will take a long time and a lot of effort to bring back the 80-90 per cent support of the Indians to BN."

An observer said the pledges were attempts by MIC to convince the Indian voters that BN was still the party for them.

Former MIC central working committee member K.P. Samy thinks the party chief has overstayed his welcome.

"He has become too complacent in his position. He has also not groomed any leader to take over from him."

"Maybe more concrete and visible measures need to be taken by the government," said Gnanasakaran.

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