Resolving Malaysia’s Indian dilemma
Statistics paint a bleak picture of the community as both BN and PH compete for the role of saviour.
PETALING JAYA: Single mother Anitha (not her real name) used to buy a small tub of margarine for RM4.90 at the supermarket in her neighbourhood. It now costs RM5.50.
As the cost of living increases, so too do Anitha’s troubles. Raising two children on a receptionist’s salary of RM2,100 a month is no easy feat.
Adding to her woes is that she’s now paying more for rent, having recently moved from a low-cost flat in Desa Mentari, an area notorious for its gangsters. She made the move for her children’s sake.
“What is most important to me is my children’s education,” she said. “Whoever wins the next general election must support education. The Indian community is in a bad place and education can help.
“Sadly, Indian politicians just haven’t done enough for us. They only know how to talk.”
Anitha’s three-person household is one of the 227,600 Malaysian Indian households earning less than RM3,900 a month. These are households categorised as B40, the poorest Malaysians.
Last month’s meeting between Pakatan Harapan chairman Mahathir Mohamad and Hindraf leader P Waythamoorthy highlighted the critical role Malaysian Indians, particularly those in B40, have in determining election results.
Indians may represent only 7% of the population, but their numbers were enough to make them kingmakers in the last two general elections, the campaigns for which saw both opposition and Barisan Nasional courting their more popular leaders.
Now that GE14 is just months away, the two sides are back at their drawing boards plotting strategies to capture Indian votes.
The fallout between Waythamoorthy and the Najib administration, just months after their electoral understanding in 2013, may be an indication that efforts to woo them this time will be complicated.
In April, the government launched a 10-year Malaysian Indian Blueprint (MIB) aimed at the community’s B40. Not to be left behind, Pakatan Harapan is also in the midst of developing its own plan for the community.
According to MIB statistics, close to 60,000 of the B40 Indian households earn less than RM2,000 a month, and of those earning less than RM1,000 a month, about 84% do not have enough savings to support three months of living expenses.
The community is also far behind the Bumiputeras and Chinese in education. Only 5% of Indian children whose parents had no formal education succeeded in tertiary education, compared with 33% for the Bumiputeras and 44% for the Chinese.
The number of school dropouts among Indians is also disproportionately high, accounting for an estimated 13% of the total number of dropouts from primary school.
About 14.5% of Indians are unemployed, compared to 11.6% of Bumiputeras and 8% of Chinese. Among those aged 15 to 19, 25.5% of Indians are categorised as unemployed, compared to 8.1% of Bumiputeras and 12.1% of Chinese.
MIB also highlights police statistics from 2014, which show that among those arrested for violent crimes, 31% were Indian, 51% Malay and 11% Chinese. The figure for Indians is considered high since they make up only 7% of the Malaysian population.
Further, it is estimated that about 70% of criminal gang members in the country are Indians.
While the rival coalitions are actively wooing the Indian community, a political analyst says many are misreading the potential impact of the Indian vote in GE14.
“But GE14 is all about the Malay vote,” he said. “If PAS puts a third candidate in all Malay seats to go up against both BN and PH, then PH is finished.”James Chin, the director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, acknowledges that the Indians can be kingmakers in 10 to 15 constituencies, but only if the fights in those constituencies are close.
He said this was because previous elections showed that in three-cornered fights in Malay constituencies, BN would win 90% of the time.
He also said the pattern of Indian votes would likely be unchanged from the last general election if GE14 were to be held this year. His reason for saying so is that there hasn’t been a “political earthquake” within the Indian community like the one that has happened in the Malay community, with Mahathir joining the opposition.
He said he didn’t believe Hindraf could draw BN’s Indian supporters away from the coalition.
“I believe Indian voters have already decided. The majority will vote PH, but BN will manage to hold on to its voters.”