01 December, 2007

Malaysia's indentured rights

Malaysian court may have temporarily “discharged” three top leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force from sedition charges, but that would do little to allay the socio-political unrest that has erupted out into the open in Malaysia.

The scale and ferocity of last Sunday's street protests, which were spearheaded by this forum of minority ethnic Indians, underscores how strong ethnic minority disaffection is in this ‘multicultural’ nation. Enforcement of the exclusionary Bhumiputra policy — which discriminates against citizens of other ethnic vintage, vis-a-vis native Malays, in distribution of social goods and even economic opportunities — and active Islamisation of the public sphere by the Malaysian state is at the heart of such social strife.

Kuala Lampur must revise its discriminatory policy orientation, if only to effect a genuine national reconciliation. Any reluctance on that score is sure to undermine Malaysia’s considerable economic advances.

Democracy may not be an inevitable corollary of free-market capitalism, but the ever-growing chain of aspirations, which a successful free-market economy fuels, can be meaningfully fulfilled only when democracy is functional. Malaysia’s Bumiputra national identity, given the success of capitalism in the country, has become more of a bane now than ever before. An exclusivist marker of national identity is, in any case, not in keeping with the ethos of the modern nation-state.

The vicious marginalisation of the then deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim, who has steadfastly espoused the cause of enlightened democracy and secular national identity, by former PM Mahatir Mohammed and his handpicked successor Abdullah Ahmed Badawi has only compounded the crisis.

Kuala Lampur must recognise that ethnic Indians are fighting for expanding the scope of Malaysian national identity. That their agitation has not made any overture, direct or indirect, to India shows that their politics is not chauvinist and separatist in character. The government’s failure to respond appropriately could lead to a Sri Lanka-like situation in Malaysia.

BN to suffer poll losses ?

The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is expected to suffer losses in elections expected early next year as it grapples with rare street protests and ethnic tensions, experts told a forum here, reported Malaysiakini.

But Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's National Front coalition government should maintain its two-thirds majority in parliament unbeaten since independence in 1957, they said.

Unprecedented street protests demanding electoral reforms and highlighting racial discrimination erupted in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur this month, posing one of the biggest challenges to Abdullah since he took over from the largely authoritarian and abrasive Mahathir Mohamad in 2003.

"I think that even with the parameters shifting at this particular juncture, it is extremely difficult for the opposition to break the barrier of the two thirds. Period," said Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asian expert at John Hopkins University.

Opposition parties in Malaysia, she said, did not provide a viable alternative electorally as they were still very personality driven and ideologically divided with limited capacity in terms of "real representation and aspect of governance."

The National Front secured the largest majority in about three decades, sweeping 198 parliamentary seats to the combined opposition parties' 20 seats, in the last elections held in 2004.

But Welsh predicted Abdullah's United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the Front's linchpin, could lose up to 15 parliamentary seats in upcoming polls and its senior coalition partner the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) could drop about six seats.

"The reality is electorally, the only place he has to go is down because he has 91 percent of the seats and it is very hard to go much higher," she said.

The fundamentalist Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), which rules Malaysia's northeastern state of Kelantan, also has a "good chance" of losing the only opposition held state to UMNO amid an influx of new voters, she said.

Aside from rising prices and other economic issues, race, religion and ethnic concerns are going to matter considerably in the next elections, she said.

Pek Koon Heng, an expert on Chinese politics in Malaysia from American University, highlighted dissatisfaction over an affirmative action policy favoring majority Muslim Malays over other races.

Many ethnic Chinese and Indians feel the time has come for a review of the New Economic Policy, framed after bloody race riots in 1969, after studies showed that Malays have already achieved the target of 30 percent corporate ownership.

But the government last year introduced another benchmark -- household income -- to measure Malay progress in an indication that the controversial policy would remain at least up to 2020, Pek said.

"There is a lot of unease about how the New Economic Policy is measured. With the uncertainty -- the moving targets -- it (the policy) can go on forever," Pek said.

"Although they accept the policy ... because we need political stability but then to subject generations and generations of Malaysians to the policy, they say, 'sometimes we need to do something about this.'"

Citing an opinion poll conducted this year, she said the Chinese in Malaysia were "least satisfied with the economic conditions and Prime Minister Abdullah's leadership and most likely to vote for the opposition."

The ethnic Indians are also discontented. At least 8,000 of them defied police warnings and held rare protests in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week against what they see as racial discrimination.

Police beat them with batons and used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the rally.

Welsh said the protests were a critical "test" for Abdullah's coalition government.

A key problem in the government is "the rising dominance of UMNO and Malay chauvinism of UMNO (which) do not listen to the other voices within the coalition," she said.

Indians in Malaysia fighting for rights: activist

Ethnic Indians in Malaysia plan to continue their protests against alleged racial discrimination in that country. CNN-IBN spoke to Y K Murthy, the chairman of Hindu Rights Group in Malaysia. He said his group had submitted a charter of 18 demands to the government.

FIGHTING ON: ‘We are a non-political group and will
continue our struggle on those lines,’ says Murthy.

CNN-IBN: Sir what is it that you plan to do immediately?

Y K Murthy We are now planning to go on an international lobby to lobby for the international committee for the cause and the plight of the minority Indians facing humiliation.

CNN-IBN: Sir don’t you think that it would be wiser to wait for them as the Malaysian government is now forming a committee to look into this?

Y K Murthy The Committee is just to pacify the people temporarily. They have always done this but we will not be duped into this. We will continue with our struggle.

CNN-IBN: Do you also intend to get into the political scene? Do you think that could make a difference?

Y K Murthy No, we have always maintained that our organisation is a non-political organisation. We will maintain our cause along those lines. We do not have political intentions.

CNN-IBN: What is it that you expect out of the whole thing? What is that you hope to do and achieve?

Y K Murthy We hope that the government will listen to the 18 demands that we have submitted to the government on July 27 and that they come out with a complete solution that we have for from them.

(IBN Live)

Hindraf wants to meet Prime Minister and UMNO leadership to discuss our 18 points demands.

Suite 8-9-7 (A) Menara Mutiara Bangsar
Jalan Liku Off Jalan Riong
Bangsar 59100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel : 03-22825622 / Fax : 03-22825616

MEDIA STATEMENT (1-12-2007 )

1. Hindraf wants to meet Prime Minister and UMNO leadership to discuss our 18 points demands.

2. Hindraf rejects MIC special committee and MIC hotline proposal
as it has not worked over the lasts 50 years.

3. Hindraf wants Special committee and hotline to be lead by Prime
Minister’s office.

With reference to the Prime Minister’s statement that he is prepared to listen to all Malaysians, we are hereby once again requesting an urgent appointments with the Prime Minister and the UMNO leadership to especially discuss the 18 point demands which has duly been forwarded to your goodselves on 12/8/07 at Putrajaya.

We wish to reiterate that we have no confidence in the MIC Special Committee and MIC hotline proposal as hundreds such committees and hotlines have been proposed and had before in the last 50 years but with almost zero results

We would like this special Committee and the hotline to be lead handled and implemented by the Prime Minister’s Office and the UMNO led Malaysian government.

It is plain and obvious that then UMNO’s mandore system (supervise ) has never effectively worked.

If the Prime Minister and the Umno led government are sincere in addressing and resolving especially the poor ethnic minority Indian problems, please meet and hear out.

We regret that despite the desperate public outcry on 25/11/2007, the UMNO led Malaysian government still went ahead and on 27/11/2007 ruthlessly demolishing the poor Indian homeless people’s squatter houses in kampung Tropicana Subang Jaya. No proper alternative houses were accorded to them.

Thereafter on 29/11/2007 UMNO came in with hundreds of policemen enforcement officers and bulldozers an UMNO mob and Indian gangster wanting to demolish the Arumigu Nava Thurgai (Behind Market Jalan Kuala Ketil) Hindu Temple , Sungai Petani Kedah. Only when thousand of hindus prevented them did they back off but promised to demolish the temple next week in the early hours of the morning as what they did to the Kg Karupaih, Padang Jawa Mariamma Hindu Temple on 30/10/07.

TO UMNO : We are a very small minority- only 8% of the population.

Please do not bully us with your mighty majortarian might ie. your army, police, enforcement personnel, Attorney General, Judiciary Civil service etc.

Don’t hit a fly with a sledgehammer.

Please treat us with some dignity and humanity.

50 years is enough!

Thank You,
Yours Faithfully

P. Uthaya Kumar
Legal Adviser

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