Tuesday, 3 July 2012

BN’s Indian support at risk after ‘Hang Ambiga’ calls

KUALA LUMPUR, July 3 — The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) risks losing Indian support, seen crucial to winning the next general elections, after the recent spate of attacks against Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan reached boiling point last week when Umno MP Datuk Mohamad Aziz suggested she be hanged for treason, MIC leaders told The Malaysian Insider.

The country’s Tamil newspapers splashed the news as well as analysis of the Sri Gading MP’s outburst in parliament, reflecting the popularity of the electoral movement Bersih’s leader, much to the dismay of BN leaders who have been trying to regain the support of the country’s 1.8 million-strong Indian community, who form seven per cent of the population and electorate.

MIC pointed out that party president Datuk G. Palanivel had to move immediately into damage control mode the moment the issue hit media headlines by assuring the community that BN’s leading Indian party does not endorse the Sri Gading MP’s stand.

Party president Datuk G. Palanivel has moved to assure the Indian community that MIC does not endorse Umno MP Datuk Mohamad Aziz’s stand. — file pic
“Such remarks will affect Indian voters, who are turning towards the BN now,” Palanivel had warned last Wednesday, even as the community’s newspapers went to town with the news.

In a heated moment during debates in the Dewan Rakyat last Tuesday, Mohamad had suggested that Ambiga be hanged for treason over her role in the Bersih 3.0 rally, which saw chaos reign the city’s streets on April 28.

The Umno leader’s remarks earned him front-page recognition in many local Tamil dailies and article upon article was filled with hard-hitting responses from community leaders, similar to the months before Election 2008 when opinion leaders from the Indian community amassed a crowd of over 30,000 to march against the allegedly unfair policies of the BN government.

The Indian community has long been seen as a “fixed deposit” vote bank for BN but the march, organised by the now outlawed Hindraf movement, was believed to be what blew the lid on the group’s simmering frustration over being left out of development for decades.

The tumultuous event, together with Bersih’s first march for free and fair elections in late 2007, have been credited for the staggering losses suffered by the ruling coalition during the March 8, 2008, general election.

Following the Bersih rally, anti-Bersih proponents held numerous protests in front of Ambiga’s home. During one protest, traders set up burger stalls just beyond the vegetarian Hindu’s main gate while in another incident, veteran soldiers performed “butt exercises”.

Most MIC leaders interviewed said that Ambiga was being made a “scapegoat” for the chaos on April 28. — file pic
“We are concerned... because the PM has been doing a lot and we have been working very hard too. And sometimes, when statements like these are uttered, of course it would touch the sensitivities of the Indian voters,” MIC secretary-general Datuk S. Murugesan told The Malaysian Insider.

“I do not think that the Indian community was in support of the Bersih rally... but because (Mohamad’s) the attack was personal, the community’s sympathy for Ambiga only grew,” he said.

But MIC, BN’s Indian-based component party, believes that the Najib administration has also done well to woo the community back into the ruling coalition’s fold.

“The Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Razak), through all his policies, has come forward and dealt directly with the Indian community, whether through NGOs, groups or the temples.

“So the Indians are coming back. But these kind of statements... issued by no less than a BN man at that, can do much damage to Najib’s good work,” MIC leader Senator Datuk Daljit Singh told The Malaysian Insider.

“The sentences he (Mohamad) used were not logical at all. At least he could have used words like ‘fine her (Ambiga)’ or ‘punish her’... after all, DBKL (KL City Hall) is already claiming damages from Bersih,” he said.

He pointed out that despite the widespread anger against Bersih and Ambiga, many in the Indian community view the former Bar Council chairman as a “brave person”.

MIC leader Senator Datuk Daljit Singh said many in the Indian community view Ambiga as a “brave person”. — file pic
“She is not fighting for anything out of the way; she is not asking for compensation from the government or anything — she is asking for free and fair elections, something which even BN and the Election Commission (EC) are fighting for,” Daljit said.

He echoed the sentiments of fellow party members that Ambiga, despite being the co-chairman of Bersih 2.0, the coalition that organised the Bersih rally, was not the only person to blame for the chaos on April 28.

“Why did he (Mohamad) not target (Opposition Leader Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) instead? He was there too.

“Ambiga has gone through enough,” he said.

Palanivel, in his statement last week, had also urged Najib and BN leaders to call for an end to the widespread attacks against Ambiga and like Daljit, had also pointed out that the leader was not the sole organiser of the Bersih rally.

“Why is Ambiga made a scapegoat?” he had asked. “Why didn’t these people demonstrate or put up burger stalls in front of other Bersih leaders’ (homes)?”

MIC central working committee (CWC) member S. Vell Paari had even said it was Mohamad who should be hanged for his lack of general knowledge.

The son of MIC’s longest serving president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu was quoted as saying in Tamil Nesan last Thursday that, “I guess that when he (Mohamad) was young, someone must have dropped him in such a way that he hit his head.”

MIC leaders said last week’s developments have only served to damage the PM’s efforts at courting the Indian community ahead of elections. — file pic
The following day, the same daily quoted Malaysian Hindu Sangam president R.S. Mohan Shan as demanding that Mohamad issue a public apology for his remarks, saying it could cause racial tension.

“Did Datuk Ambiga commit the crime of murder that she should be hanged? This is a matter that deserves serious censure,”

Pahang MIC communication head R. Gunasekaran was quoted as saying.

Other media reports quoted National Indian Rights Action Team (Niat) chairman Datuk Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim as challenging Mohamad to repeat his remarks outside the Dewan Rakyat, where the latter would no longer enjoy parliamentary immunity.

“If he doesn’t repeat his remarks outside, it will show that he was only abusing his privileges to abuse respected NGO leaders who champion civil rights issues,” he was quoted as saying on news portal Free Malaysia Today.

The embattled Mohamad has since retracted his statement after he was censured by Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, but it is believed that the incident may have reopened old wounds within the Indian community that the Najib administration has been struggling to heal.

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