Friday, March 21, 2008

HAF welcomes 'political tsunami

HAF welcomes "Political Tsunami" in Malaysia
Blitz Desk

The political landscape was in upheaval in Malaysia late last week after the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was handed a shocking defeat in national elections losing its two-thirds majority in the country's parliament. While the BN leader Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was sworn in as Prime Minister for another term, his mandate is severely weakened. The Hindu American Foundation, along with many human rights observers in the United States welcomed the development as a referendum against the Prime Minister's recent crackdown on ethnic minority Indians and jailing of Hindu leaders under draconian laws.
Political change began sweeping the country in late 2007 after the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) organized 80,000 ethnic Indians to march on the nation's capital to protest ethnic and religious discrimination and the destruction of several Hindu temples by the government. The rally was brutally dispersed and the government tried to silence any opposition. In an obvious blow to the Badawi government, M. Manoharan, one of the five HINDRAF leaders held under a draconian security law that allows indefinite detention without trial, won a seat in parliament convincingly on a Democratic Action Party (DAP) ticket.

"The overwhelming message we can glean from these elections is that a national policy of ethnic marginalization, discrimination and, indeed, religious persecution was rejected by Malays from all backgrounds," said Aseem Shukla, M.D., member of the HAF Board of Directors. "The Badawi government's regressive policies of reserving coveted jobs, leadership opportunities and school admissions for ethnic Malays, and a promotion of Islamist ideology poisoned and polarized the polity in Malaysia too far."

The Barisan Nasional, headed by Prime Minister Badawi won a majority of the seats (140 of the 222 seats), but compared to the 2004 elections in which it had won 64 percent of the vote, and 90 percent of the parliamentary seats, this time around it won only 51% percent of the votes and 63 percent of parliamentary seats. This despite widespread reports of vote-rigging and the huge advantages that the ruling coaliton had in terms of resources and support to hold big public rallies, denied to the opposition. Much more significantly, the BN lost its two-thirds majority, and suffered its worst outcome in 50 years. A two-thirds majority in parliament is needed to amend the constitution. The opposition parties together have won 82 seats compared to only 19 in the outgoing parliament.

The chief of the Malaysian Indian Congress, Samy Vellu, lost the seat he had held for 34 years. Many Hindu-Malaysians had blamed Samy Vellu for ignoring the real plight of his fellow minorities to gain favor within the Badawi government of which he was a cabinet member.
"The Hindu American Foundation is gratified that Hindu-Malaysians, who have borne the brunt of Malaysia's discriminatory policies, have been vindicated in their struggle to right the old wrongs," said Dr. Mihir Meghani, President, HAF. "We were one of the few international Hindu organizations who stood firmly behind HINDRAF's struggles this past year, and we look forward to the leaders of HINDRAF being released from prison, allowed to participate freely in public life, and fight for the rights of the long-discriminated Hindu minority."

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