Kuala Lumpur: Ahead of general elections in Malaysia, the 950,000-strong ethnic Indian community, mostly Tamils, is being wooed by both the ruling and opposition parties with catchy Tamil songs, pamphlets and online videos. Both sides are vying for the votes of ethnic Indians, which can play a crucial role in as many as 60 of the total 222 parliamentary seats, where the community makes up between 10 per cent to 30 per cent of the voters.
Ethnic Indians make up about 950,000 of the 13.3 million eligible voters for the May 5 general election. The importance of ethnic Indian votes was recently reinforced when Premier Najib Razak admitted their significance and value.
For the first time, brochures have been printed in Tamil language and are being distributed in large numbers by candidates of both Najib's ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, as well as the opposition parties. At least a dozen songs in support of the ruling coalition have been uploaded on YouTube, while the opposition alliance has come up with five, using music from popular Tamil movies, such as 'Kolaveri' and 'Kumki'.
The opposition has also produced a 30-minute drama, Vidyal (Awakening), featuring a wayward youth who ends up in prison, but is eventually reformed on meeting opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. A political scientist at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Sivamurugan Pandian, said ethnic Indians, who had overwhelmingly voted for the opposition in 2008 elections, were expected to support the ruling party this time because of Najib's 'feel good' factor.
"Many Indians are appreciative of Najib's efforts to provide assistance to the community that has been lagging behind," he was quoted by Star newspaper as saying. He said the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), the largest ethnic Indian political party, may retain the four seats it currently holds.
According to political analyst S Periasamy, the ethnic Indian community trusts Najib. "Such trust was not there over the past few decades, resulting in Indians moving away from the Barisan Nasional government. The Nov 25, 2007 Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) demonstration was the proverbial straw which broke the camel's back," he said.
"The political tsunami in the 2008 elections bore testament to this. But the tide has since changed and I believe it is still changing," Periasamy added. HINDRAF, a coalition of 30 Hindu NGOs committed to the preservation of Hindu community rights and heritage in a multiracial Malaysia, had a major impact to the political landscape of Malaysia.
In 2007, several prominent members of the HINDRAF were arrested, some on charges of sedition; following an enormous rally organised by HINDRAF in November. "The Prime Minister realises that our votes are crucial although we don't have a single majority constituency," said Periasamy. Ethnic Indians consists of eight per cent of Malaysia's 28 million population. The other part of the population consists of 60 per cent Malays and 25 per cent ethnic Chinese.