Monday, March 24, 2008

Hindus avenge their humiliation in Malaysia, the fight goes on to get Hindraf 5 released

March 30, 2008
Parvasi Bharatiya

Hindraf makes a dent in ruling coalition vote bank
Hindus avenge their humiliation in Malaysia
By Petaling Jaya

Malaysia is in shock. The Barisan Nasional is reeling from its worst-ever election performance with the ruling coalition losing 2/3 majority. 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 a clear proof of democracy at work in the country. He urged people to remain calm and not take to the streets to celebrate.

Tamil Nesan had a massive pull-out 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 November 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 Cabinet? Indian voters form significant numbers in at least 67 parliamentary and 141 state assembly seats where they comprise between 9 per cent and 46 per cent of the electorate. 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 per cent of contestants. MIC fielded nine for the Parliament and 19 for the state assemblies. The DAP had seven Indians for the Parliament and 17 for state while PKR fielded 19 Indians. In the 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 November 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 work.

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 the 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.

With the damming defeat, the MIC now becomes the only party, with its top leaders — president, deputy president (Datuk G. Palanivel) and three-vice presidents (Datuk S. Sothinathan, Datuk S. Veerasingam and Tan Sri Dr K.S. Nijhar)—will not have parliamentary seats to their names.

The MIC was allotted nine parliamentary and 19 state seats to contest. Only three MIC candidates won parliamentary seats while a mere seven won state seats.

MIC candidates who emerged victorious in the parliamentary seats were MIC information chief Datuk M. Saravanan (Tapah), S.K. Devamany (Cameron Highlands) and secretary-general Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam (Segamat).

The party’s candidates were wiped-out in Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor while the seven who managed to cling on were the four state assembly men in Johor, one in Melaka, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang.

Political observers said MIC’s dismal performance in this polls was to be expected as the “tell-tale” signs were there but were never noticed by party leaders.

It began when certain segments of the 1.8 million Indians unhappy with the way the party was addressing the woes of the community, sparked an uprising of some sorts by organising a street demonstration in Kuala Lumpur in November last year.

Despite the intense pressure, Samy Vellu vowed that he would make changes to the MIC line-up in this election. He did make changes but they were minimal. He brought in new faces only in Saravanan and S. Murugesan (who contested the Subang constituency and lost).

It is without doubt that the veteran leader, who was appointed as Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister in 1978 and subsequently Works Minister in 1979, has to leave the Cabinet, in which he was a member for many years.

Samy Vellu, who once worked as a bus conductor, office boy and a newscaster in RTM, climbed the party’s ladder the hard way.

After becoming an MIC member in 1959 at the Batu Caves branch, he clawed his way up as the acting president in 1979 following the death of Tan Sri V. Manickavasagam, the then MIC president.

The eldest son of rubber tappers Sangilimuthu and Angammah, took the helm of MIC in 1981. He has held on to that position despite facing strong challenge many a time.

After serving the community for nearly 30 years, the man, who as a kid, moved from estate to estate with his parents in search of employment, had a hard decision to make in the light of the current circumstances.

Will he step aside in the party or plod on, will he be made a senator and retain his works minister’s portfolio, one time will tell.

Malaysia’s opposition was set on recently to hand the ruling coalition its biggest upset ever, winning the northern industrial state of Penang and putting the prime minister’s political future at risk.

The multi-racial National Front coalition was almost certain to get a majority and form the government at the federal level, but the two-thirds majority in parliament it has held for most of its five-decade-long rule was looking shaky in early returns.

“It’s bad. They have lost Penang,” a source close to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told Reuters just two and a half hours after polling booths closed. “It’s a perfect storm,” he added. “Big guns are falling all over the place.”

The chief minister of Penang conceded defeat and said he would hand over power to the opposition, one of the state’s opposition leaders said.

“He has contacted the governor. He respected the wishes of the people and hoped there are no untoward incidents,” said Chow Kon Yeow, head of the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which was set to lead the new government in the state.

The surprise defeat for the ruling National Front coalition aroused memories of the last time it failed to win a two-thirds majority, in 1969, when deadly race riots erupted between majority ethnic Malays and minority Chinese.

Abdullah said he accepted defeat in some areas and urged people to remain calm.

Police officials vowed to use tough internal security laws against anyone spreading rumours of race riots, and banned victory processions after the results, one of which had triggered the violence in 1969.

The poll, called before it was due in May 2009, was widely seen as a referendum on Abdullah’s rule, and Malaysians took the opportunity to administer a stinging rebuke over price rises, religious disputes and concerns over corruption.

Works Minister Samy Vellu, chief of the Malaysian Indian Congress, one of the parties in the ruling National Front coalition, lost the seat he had held for nearly 30 years, because many Indians thought he was out of touch with their concerns.

Another slap in the face for the government was a victory by detained ethnic Indian activist and lawyer M. Manoharan, who won a parliamentary seat, after being held under internal-security laws for organising a major anti-government protest last year.

Chinese and Indians account for a third of the population of 26 million and many complain the government discriminates in favour of Malays when it comes to education, jobs, financial assistance and religious policy.

“This looks like a revolution,” said Husam Musa, vice president of the Islamist opposition party Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), which looked to be winning in northeastern Kelantan state.

“The people have risen and are united. The message to government is, ‘Enough is enough’”, he told reporters.

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