KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 – The battle for Indian votes is intense in the upcoming 13th General Election as both sides of the political divide see these votes as crucial for the victory of their candidates.
Indians do not make up the majority in any of the parliamentary or state constituencies, but their voting pattern can determine the victory or defeat of candidates banking on their support.
MIC secretary-general Datuk S. Murugesan said the Indian community would be the deciding factor in the coming general election.
He said the Indian votes in about 50 parliamentary constituencies will determine the victory or defeat of the candidates. “When they look at where the votes are evenly divided, 10 per cent or five per cent of the votes will become crucial,” he said in an interview with SwitchUp.tv.
A swing to the opposition by Indian voters cost the Barisan Nasional (BN) several seats in the 2008 General Election. The MIC itself managed to secure only three parliamentary and seven state seats out of the nine parliamentary and 19 state seats it contested in 2008.
The votes swing came in the wake of the issues played up by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) on the empowerment of Indians. As the community evaluates the promises made and fulfilled, or unfulfilled as the case may be, in deciding whom to vote for in the coming general election, political parties including the BN and the Pakatan Rakyat pact have begun courting the Indians.
Assoc Prof Dr Sarjit Singh of the Department of Social Sciences and Development, Faculty of Human Ecology, Universiti Putra Malaysia, said the community appreciated the government’s recognition accorded to Indians and was happy with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for doing more for the Indians.
Najib met with Hindraf leaders on March 25. Sarjit said the willingness of the prime minister to discuss the plight of the Indian community was heart warming and had a positive impact.
He cautioned, however, that although the Indians have started to come back to the BN, parties like the MIC and PPP and NGOs dealing with Indian affairs should sit down together to discuss common issues faced by the community, particularly in terms of education and the economy.
He said the fact that the needs of the Indian community were not even included in the ‘Manifesto Rakyat’ of the DAP-PKR-PAS pact could be a push factor for the pact and the BN should seize the opportunity to do more in winning the hearts and minds of the Indians.
He said the MIC’s Changing Destiny of 1Malaysia Indian Children (MDAIM) programme launched in February was a good start to improve the socio-economic position of the Indian community.
Malaysian Indian Welfare Association president A. Prakash, asked to comment on the opposition pact’s handling of Indian affairs, said no statistics had been given by the pact in proving its sincerity in helping the community.
“A simple example I could point out here is about the job opportunities at the state government building in Selangor. Before they took over the state, Pakatan Rakyat promised to increase the number of Indian employees in SUK (Selangor State Government),” he told Bernama with a disappointment, adding that the situation had not improved even after five years since the last general election.
On the other hand, he said, the BN continued with its efforts to uplift the people’s living standard through assistance like the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M), 1Malaysia Clinic, 1Malaysia People’s Shop, 1Malaysia People’s Housing Programme (PR1MA) and 1AZAM (poverty eradication programme).
Adding to the list, the MyDaftar campaign that was launched specifically to solve the Indian community’s documentation problems, and which received special recognition from the United Nations, had benefited many of them.
“Many have benefited through such programmes and we have more Tamil schools coming up with more scholarships offered for further studies. As such, the Indians frustrated with Pakatan Rakyat are coming back to (support) BN,” Prakash said.
Echoing similar sentiments, Tamil Youth Bell Club president K. Murali said the pull factor might be a reason for the return of the Indians. He said the community was getting a better deal under the BN and the implementation of specific policies pertaining to its welfare was a positive sign.
At the end of the day, it depends solely on the Indians to evaluate the ‘Najib factor’ and the opposition’s unexplained promises and mark their wise decision on the ballot paper.