Saturday, March 8, 2008

Hindraf effect: Malaysia's political landscape changes

Barisan reels from worst-ever election performance [the ruling coalition
loses 2/3 majority]

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is in shock. The Barisan Nasional is reeling from
its worst-ever election performance.

While it managed to keep Terengganu and will form the next government, it
lost Penang, Selangor Kedah and Perak to the Opposition and failed to
recapture Kelantan.

Barisan Nasional chairman Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in accepting the
results, said this was clear proof of democracy at work in the country.

He urged people to remain calm and not take to the streets to celebrate.

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MIC [Malaysian Indian Congress] in shambles with no leader in the wings
[Many senior leaders defeated]

KUALA LUMPUR: Saturday's Tamil Nesan had a massive pullout for birthday boy
Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu with back-to-back coverage and full-page live-size
photographs of him taken out by all 28 MIC candidates, hailing their chief
as the greatest man ever born.

The surreal coverage was in stark contrast to the ugly mood among Indians
who had already 'told' Samy Vellu that his time was up - through the Nov 25
protest and the boycott of Batu Caves during Thaipusam - and were waiting to
say it again through the ballot box.

It was Samy Vellu's final swan song. Except for Dr S. Subramaniam , S.
Saravanan and K. Devamani, the other MIC candidates were all wiped out in an
unprecedented wave of anger, opening up a new era in politics for Indians.

With most of the MIC bigwigs wiped out, the internal power equation in the
party has gone haywire and only time will tell how it is going to unravel.

After such a beating it is also inconceivable that Samy Vellu should
continue as party president. Sadly, he does not have a winner in a number
two or three to hand over the party to.

The vice-presidents, until press time, appear to have been defeated as well,
leaving the MIC leadership in shambles. It will take a long time for the
mess to be sorted out.

The MIC representation in the Cabinet and the administration is also in
question now that Samy Vellu, the sole Indian minister for 29 years, has
been defeated. Who is the winner or loser? Who will to take his place in the

Indian voters form significant numbers in at least 67 parliamentary and 141
state assembly seats where they comprise between 9% and 46% of the

The results across the country indicate they had used their numbers to vote
Opposition and helped change the direction of politics in the country.

They were the deciding factor in constituencies where Malay and Chinese
votes divided. Indians who traditionally backed the Government made their
small numbers count.

Twenty-two Indians contested in 18 parliamentary seats and 53 Indians
contested in 40 seats. They comprised about 8% of contestants.

MIC fielded nine for Parliament and 19 for the state assemblies. The DAP had
seven Indians for Parliament and 17 for state while PKR fielded 19 Indians.

In Parliament and the state assemblies, there will be about 20 Indians from
the DAP and PKR and all will be sitting on the opposition bench. Previously,
in the entire country there were only two Indian MPs - Karpal Singh and M.
Kulasegaran - holding the fort.

It is going to be a lively Parliament and Opposition Indian MPs are going to
fall over each other to voice Indian woes.

The results are a victory for Makkal Shakti, the force unleashed by Hindraf
leader P. Uthayakumar on Nov 25, which ballooned into a formidable Indian
movement to carry away so many MIC leaders.

The larger question is of course Indian representation in the government,
which would be lesser with so many casualties. The government will have to
find new ways to fill the vacancies and not just promote losers into
senators and then ministers.

Because of the defeat in some states, Indian representation is nil, making
it a challenging task for the Barisan Nasional power-sharing formula to

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Beyond racial politics [a pre-election editorial appeal by Sun Newspaper]

While Malaysian political parties have managed to negotiate communal issues
with remarkable dexterity over the past five decades, it is clear that the
race-based formula that defines our political landscape must be re-modelled
in due course. This is necessary because a long-entrenched habit of
organising society into separate racial groups is patently unhealthy and
ultimately counterproductive.

The task should begin, naturally, with the envisioning of a society that
emphasises a unifying, cross-cultural experience instead of striving to
maintain social and institutional differences based on race and religion.
This would require investing time and energy in reforming all important
public institutions and processes to become inclusive, universal and
egalitarian so that communal differences are de-emphasised and common values
embraced as core principles.

This is obviously a massive undertaking that will require decades if not
generations to accomplish. Nevertheless, it must begin with a sense of
conviction among all communities that such a society is not only achievable,
but most desirable.

Further, as the goal involves a radical transformation in thinking, it must
be approached in a systematic manner that would foster a gradual acceptance
of the idea. The process should move from discussion of the idea among
cultural experts, political leaders, public figures, community groups and
civil society organisations, to confidence-building initiatives,
experimental programmes and onward to more institutional efforts.

A first step could be the establishment of a race relations commission that
reports to Parliament. Such an entity should be tasked with driving the
agenda of racial harmony by drawing on the strength of opinion leaders and
leading lights in the various communities. Thereafter a blueprint for
promoting racial unity should be developed, including a revamp of
institutions such as the Department of National Unity to make its role in
promoting racial harmony more effective.

Such a blueprint should encompass the reform of major national institutions
including educational institutions, the civil service, parliament, the
justice system and others to reflect a race-blind public policy. This would
ensure that over time, all public institutions would be guided by the
principles of egalitarianism and universal values.

In this process, a move towards reforming legislation to make them consonant
with the values of a race-blind society would be a logical progression.

Admittedly, from our current position, all this looks like a distant dream.
However, the challenge of taking up the discussion is open to all who wish
to forge a great future for Malaysia. Let the work begin.

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