By Clara Chooi
KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — Malaysia’s 1.8-million strong Indian community will likely hold the deciding vote over who should form the next government in the coming polls, MIC secretary-general Datuk S. Murugesan has said.
“They will be the game-changers,” he told The Malaysian Insider during a recent interview.
The youthful leader noted that although the Indian community forms only a small percentage of the country’s voting populace, “their votes are still up for grabs”.
“The Malays are clearly split in their votes. The Chinese are largely pro-opposition. But the Indians could be the game-changers because they are still up for grabs.
“The Umno vote won’t run by much, neither will PAS nor DAP so the Indians may be the ones who decide next,” he said.
In Election 2008, decades of frustrations at being left out of development saw the Indian community flee from BN’s side, adding to the ruling pact’s historical loss of its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority.
But since then, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been actively courting the community, seen now as the possible game-changer for the coming 13th general election.
For example, the prime minister had allocated RM100 million to upgrade Tamil schools in Budget 2012, the same amount given to Chinese schools and religious schools.
Murugesan said the prime minister’s efforts to tackle the Indian vote have not been for naught, adding that it would likely come to fruition in the coming polls.
“The changes since 2008 have been very gradual and painstaking. But it has been increasing, though in small percentages.
“It is not a total swing our way but every vote has been earned - because of (MIC president Datuk Seri G) Palanivel’s work and the prime minister,” he said.
Murugesan said apart from the special RM100 million budget to Tamil schools, Najib’s Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) initiative and the Kedai Rakyat 1 Malaysia (KR1M) has also helped sway the Indian vote in favour of BN.
“Since Najib came to power, I think he has spent some RM400 million just for the Indian community alone. And they can feel the changes,” he said.
Murugesan noted that the cash handouts had reached directly into the pockets of Malaysia’s poor, many among whom are from the Indian community.
During a recent press conference, Palanivel had revealed that at least 30 per cent of Malaysia’s Indians are living hand to mouth.
“The idea is — if you can assist the bottom 30 per cent (lower income earners), then you can eventually help avoid a lot of problems in the community like crime rate, dropouts, social ills and all those things.
“If we can tackle it well, then at least you can have the professionals moving up on the ladder and those in the bottom rung moving along with them,” Murugesan said.
But while he believes that the Indians are returning back to BN’s fold, the MIC leader warned that this support is fragile and could be easily destroyed.
He cited the recent uproar over Sri Gading MP Datuk Mohamad Aziz’s call for Datuk Ambiga Sreenavasan to be hanged for treason over her involvment in the Bersih 3.0 rally.
“We fear that all these things (Indian support) can be lost in a flash by careless statements by some leaders. And it has been happening on and off. That worries us,” he said.