Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ethnic tensions in Malaysian election

Ethnic Tensions in Malaysian Election

By VIJAY JOSHI – 2 hours ago

RINCHING, Malaysia (AP) — With a small knife, plantation worker Ramalingam Tirumalai makes raw incisions on the rubber trees every morning to harvest the oozing gooey latex.

Just like the gashes on the trees, Ramalingam says, countless wounds have been inflicted by Malaysia's government on the country's ethnic Indian minority, denying them jobs, education, freedom of religion and most of all dignity.

Seething anger among ethnic Indians like Ramalingam is likely to singe the government during parliamentary elections on March 8.

"We have been independent for 50 years," the stocky 53-year-old said of his country. "But there has been no change in the lives of Indians."

No one doubts that the National Front coalition, which has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, will return to power. But it is expected to fall short of its 2004 landslide, when it won 91 percent of the seats. Anything less than a two-thirds majority would signal plunging support for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Voters are upset by rising prices and a surge in urban crime. Ethnic tensions are also at a high, largely because of the increasing influence of Islam in daily life.

"We need a new kind of leadership," Ramalingam said in an interview near his plantation in Rinching town, about 30 miles from Malaysia's main city, Kuala Lumpur.

The National Front is dominated by the party of the Muslim Malay majority, which make up 60 percent of the country's 27 million people. The Front also has the support of some ethnic Chinese, who are 25 percent of the population, and some Indians, who are eight percent.
Indians have traditionally voted for the Malaysian Indian Congress, their party in the National Front.

But now the Indians will "definitely vote for the opposition," said S. Nagarajan of the Education, Welfare and Research Foundation, a nonprofit group that represents impoverished ethnic Indians. "This time there is raw anger."

Indian voters could make a difference in 62 of the 222 constituencies, said Denison Jayasooriya, a political analyst who specializes in Indian affairs.

At the time of independence, most Malaysians were poor, regardless of race. But an affirmative action program that gives Malays preference in university admission and government jobs, discounted homes and a mandatory 30 percent share of all publicly listed companies has lifted the Malay standard of living.

The Chinese, already well established in business, continued to flourish. But the Indians remain at the bottom of the barrel.

The government denies discriminating against Indians, citing statistics that show the poverty rate among Malays is higher than for Indians. But analysts say the statistics are skewed because the Malay figure includes indigenous tribes that are extremely poor and not ethnically Malay.

Indians were also infuriated when municipal authorities destroyed several Indian temples last year because they were deemed to have been built illegally.

The disenchantment exploded on Nov. 25 when about 20,000 Indians demonstrated in Kuala Lumpur. Several smaller demonstrations have taken place since.

About 85 percent of the ethnic Indians are descendants of indentured laborers brought by the British to work on rubber plantations in the 19th century. The work, where it remains, pays about $60 month.

But many plantations were turned into golf courses and luxury home communities in the 1980s and 1990s, and the workers lost their jobs and the free housing and schooling that was included.

Other plantations converted to palm oil, which does not require the skills of rubber tapping, and the Indians were replaced with Indonesian immigrants at lower wages.

Another rubber estate in Kuala Lumpur was cleared for stadiums and athlete housing for the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

Former workers still live on the last 40-acre patch, which is slated to become a graveyard.

The residents have been classified as squatters and offered two-room rental apartments in a nearby low-cost housing development. Their school and temple will be relocated inside the burial ground, a proposal that has incensed the residents.

"My age is 43 years. I have lived here for 43 years. How can I be a squatter?" said Shanti Vasupillai. "All I am asking for is our rights."

1 comment:

DIASPORA said...

Tun Dr Mahathir has very succintly put it in MALAYSIAKINI lately that the The Right Hon'ble Dato Dr S Samy Velu NEVER asked for anything for the Indians fom him or at Cabinet meetings. Then, we can assume that He only asked for himself and kept the Indians as serfs to be his vote bank only and a few pittances here and there for the more succumbing cohorts and cronies.

The Tun himself urges that the Right Hon,ble Dato for the best of interests must withdraw from the scene if the Indians are going to see the light of day.

The style of The Right Hon'ble Dato is exactly the same way that most or nearly ALL Indians behave not only in Malaysis but also in India and other countries where they are squatting now. This is a view and feeling that I have personally gathered over the years dealing with them.

It must have been only too obvious to the Works Minister that the situation could not have kept on going with Samy tomfooling the Indians throughout his career. He may still feel concerned about the 2nd Penang Bridge for obvious reasons.

His family itself must feel sad for him now. But good old Samy must have the pea nut sized brain to think or understand that he is wanted no more by the People.

The greatest Politician - Tun Dr Mahathir - has already made the decision for him. Politicians are maybe good people when they start off. But in the end they become scurrillous crooks and 'rippers' and suffer the fate that have become one that is that of the Tun and Dato Samy now.

Only the great like Mandela and Mohandas Ghandi could probably walk the streets without being spat out because of their intense Love and Compassion and the great urge to SERVE the people.