Hindraf losing steam, Indians likely back with BN, say analysts
January 28, 2013
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — Putrajaya’s decision to lift its ban on rights group Hindraf will not add to Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Indian support much, analysts have said, pointing out that the ruling pact already has most of the community’s vote in the bag.
In a strategically-timed move over the weekend, the Najib administration agreed to legalise the Hindu Rights Action Force, the movement that had led a massive anti-government protest in 2007 to demand for Indian rights.
The tumultuous event, which saw some 30,000 Indians marching down the streets of the capital under a shower of chemical water and plumes of tear gas, has been largely credited for BN’s apparent failure to snag the Indian vote in Election 2008.
But some five years on, analysts believe that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has come far in recapturing the community’s respect, thanks to his administration’s many conciliatory efforts, cash handouts and Indian outreach programmes.
“I don’t think it (lifting the ban) will have much effect,” political scientist Wong Chin Huat told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.
“I am inclined to believe that BN has succeeded in wooing back most of the Indian swing voters they can woo. A last-minute pre-election gesture is unlikely to swing the more critical ones of the swing voters,” he said.
Wong stressed, however, that 20 per cent of Indian voters are still fence-sitters, with BN and its political foes in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) sharing equal support from the remaining voters.
The ban on Hindraf was lifted on the eve of Thaipusam, a significant festival to the Tamils who make up the majority of Malaysian Indians, just as the 13th general election draws near.
The Indian vote is seen as crucial in determining BN’s continued rule as the approaching election, which must be called by April, is expected to be a very tight battle between the ruling coalition and PR.
The MIC said last month that it was banking on Najib’s popularity to recapture Indian support.
Observers have said that Najib and BN leaders have lost confidence in the MIC’s ability to score the Indian vote, resulting in efforts by the prime minister to engage directly with the community, who form nearly 1.8 million of the 28 million-strong population in Malaysia. Some 800,000 are registered voters.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced last Saturday that the government would provide a special budget for Tamil schools next year, on top of the RM100 million allocation in Budget 2012 and 2013 each.
Under Budget 2013, Najib also allocated RM50 million for Indian entrepreneurs and another RM50 million to train impoverished Indian students in industrial skills.
Putrajaya also dished out RM500 cash aids under the Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) programme last year that cost taxpayers RM2.6 billion, a move that increased Najib’s approval ratings to 69 per cent.
A second round of BR1M this year is expected to benefit 4.3 million households and 2.7 million single unmarried individuals compared to 4.2 million people for the first BR1M.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian told The Malaysian Insider that the past 16 by-elections indicated the return of Indian backing for BN, especially among rural voters.
“Hulu Selangor was owned back by (P.) Kamalanathan,” he said, referring to the Hulu Selangor by-election in 2010 that the MIC’s Kamalanathan won after party lost the seat to PKR in Election 2008.
“I think in the next general election, Indians will evaluate the performance of the four (PR) state governments and what Najib has been doing for the Indian community in the past,” Sivamurugan said.
He also said that the lifting of the ban on Hindraf may persuade some fence-sitters over to BN who viewed it as a sign of political change.
“We’ve seen certain conditions, restrictions being imposed on an organisation or even to assemble, but today we see the changes that have occurred. So maybe this is part of his (Najib’s) plan so that people will be able to see there is change,” said Sivamurugan.
Like Wong, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) political analyst Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin also said that the lifting of the Hindraf ban was largely insignificant to Indian voters.
“Lower-class and lower-caste Indians who have directly benefited from BN’s recent concerted efforts to help the poor have returned to BN,” Shamsul Amri told The Malaysian Insider via a text message yesterday.
“You must remember Hindraf is a movement initiated by the middle and upper-class/ caste Indians by mobilising the lower-class/caste Indians. Now the latter (the majority in Hindraf) has been taken care of to an extent. The former (small number) who are well-off will remain defiant for ‘democratic reasons’,” he added.
Another UKM political analyst, Datuk Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff, said the lifting of the ban on Hindraf would not pull many Indian voters back to BN as the group was not significant anymore.
“Hindraf has been out of the picture for some time,” Mohammad Agus told The Malaysian Insider.
“What are the determining factors that could influence Indians to vote in the general election? I think it’s about their livelihood, cost of living, fairness, social justice. I think that is what they are looking for, not so much about Hindraf being illegal or not,” he added.
Hindraf leaders said last Saturday that being legal now was “nothing to celebrate about”, vowing instead to continue pursuing the demands they raised before Election 2008, an election that saw BN lose its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Key among these demands are equal rights and opportunities for all races in Malaysia and the scrapping of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which outlines the special privileges and position of the Malays.