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Indian community, the kingmaker in Selangor election?

Analysts say Malay parties will need a different approach to voters in Selangor.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Indians attend a Perikatan Nasional event ahead of the elections to be held in six states. Photo: Facebook
Indians attend a Perikatan Nasional event ahead of the elections to be held in six states. Photo: Facebook

Political parties from both sides of the divide have been urged to keep tabs on the Indian vote in Selangor, as state polls loom following the dissolution of the legislative assembly last week. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, analyst R Paneir Selvam said the Malay vote would be a toss-up among Umno, PAS and Bersatu, while the Chinese vote would likely go en bloc to Pakatan Harapan (PH). 
The Indian vote, meanwhile, could swing either way, giving the community a crucial role in determining the winner, he said. 

"The Malay parties have to focus on Indian issues such as unemployment, youth involvement in crimes, and government jobs," he added. 

"Racial issues will only demotivate them. We want leaders for all." 

The Indian community was a traditional vote bank for Barisan Nasional (BN) and its component MIC, which was in charge of upholding Indian rights.

The trend continued even as the Reformasi movement in 1998 reached its peak with the sacking of then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. 

Paneir, of Arunachala Research and Consultancy, said MIC began losing the Indian vote in 2008, and was now struggling to win back the trust of the community. 

"Their loyalty was misused, hence the swing to the opposition at the time," he said. 

"MIC failed to recognise the changing mindset, the needs of the Indians and the political landscape. It harped on the same issues, such as Tamil schools and temples. 

"The ordinary Indians are simple – they just want to survive." 

While certain issues could be brought up in Kelantan and Terengganu, he said, Selangor would present a different battleground. 

Adding that Malay parties would have to use a different approach in the state, he said that "sensitive issues" were no longer a draw for the Indian community as they had been leading up to the 1990s. 

Selangor will hold state elections in the coming months alongside five other states: Penang, Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, and Terengganu.

Paneir also noted that only three seats out of 56 in the Selangor assembly were held by Indian representatives, saying this was not reflective of the community as the percentage of Indian votes in the total number of seats ranged from 3% to 43%. 

"They have to look into the Indian population percentage, and that needs to be represented in elections," he said. 

The three Indian representatives are all from PH: R Rajiv (Bukit Gasing), G Gunaraj (Sentosa), and V Ganabatirau (Kota Kemuning). 

Recent data from the statistics department shows that there are two million Indians in the country, compared to 6.9 million Chinese and 17.6 million Malays. 

Nearly half of the Indian population in Malaysia lives in Selangor, where the percentage stands at 40%. 

Constituencies with a significant number of Indian voters include Bukit Melawati, Ijok, Pandamaran, and Sungai Kandis.

Analyst Anis Anwar Suhaimi said there were at least five mixed constituencies where the support of Indians would be crucial in determining the outcome: Kuala Kubu Baru, Bukit Antarabangsa, Kajang, Sentosa, and Kota Kemuning. 

Anis, of 02 Research Malaysia, said seats where working class Malays form the majority such as Seri Setia and Sungai Pelek would see a split in Malay votes.

"With the 'green wave' that swept the Selangor parliamentary seats in the 15th general election, the Indians could be the kingmaker in determining the outcome of the state election," he said, using a controversial phrase to describe PN's gains at the polls last year. 

Adding that the Indian community generally leaned towards PH, Anis said they were nevertheless fragmented due to differences in economic and geographical backgrounds. 

"With the PH-BN partnership, this state election will see them siding with the coalitions," he said.