An estimated 69 per cent Indian settlers voted for the opposition in this month's general elections in Malaysia, severely restricting and denying the two-thirds majority to the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, a study said on Sunday.
The vote swing in favour of the opposition was as high as 42 per cent in the case of the Chinese, who constitute 33 per cent of the 28 million population.
Ten per cent of the local Malays, mainly in the cities, voted with the opposition.
Ethnic Indians, most of who came to Malaysia during the British era, number over 2.5 million. Majority of them are Tamil Hindus, but there are also large pockets of Punjabis and other north Indians besides other language groups from south India.
Ibrahim Suffian, director of programmes at the Merdeka Centre, an independent polling agency, said dissatisfaction was most evident among Indian voters.
"We heard so many stories of how Indian voters and youths volunteered to help the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) in many places throughout the country," he said.
Suffian said that the economy was the predominant factor feeding into public discontent in the run-up to the election, the New Straits Times reported.
"But ultimately, the tipping factor was the perception that the government was not doing enough to solve problems like the rising cost of living, curbing the high-handed behaviour among some civil servants, particularly in cases such as (former army commando) M Moorthy's religious status, temple demolitions and insensitive remarks and gestures by politicians.
An Islamic court had last year ruled that Moorthy, who died, was a Muslim and should be buried. The ruling had raised a controversy.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi opted for early polls, cutting short his five-year tenure. The 10th general election on March 8, however, saw the BN losing its two-thirds majority advantage and the emergence of 82 opposition members in parliament.
BN lost power in five of the states as well, yielding ground to Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadalan Rakyat (PKR), besides PAS.
Among the ethnic Indian winners is M Manoharan, the jailed legal advisor of the Hindu rights Action Force (Hindraf), a body that claims to speak for the Tamil Hindus.
Manoharan and four others Hindraf leaders are serving a two-year jail term. Despite his poll victory, the government has refused to release him.
Mohammad Agus Yusoff, head of political science at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said that apart from feeling marginalised, the Indian and Chinese voters were unhappy as the government seemed not to think of their livelihood.
"They felt the government had failed to care for their 'stomach'. The rising cost of living made it difficult for them to live comfortably.
"They believed that if the BN was given the majority of votes, the cost of living would go up and this would impact their quality of life," Yusoff said.
Silent voters, he said, accounted for 40 per cent of swing votes. These silent voters were people who never openly criticised the government but instead took their grouses to the ballot box.
Perhaps, the swing votes would not have been so high if the government had given out bonuses to government servants, he noted.
"The salary increment for this group was last year and the culture of every community in the world is that they only remember rewards given at the 'last minute'.
"There are more than 120,000 unemployed graduates in the country and next year the number could reach 150,000," said Yusoff.
Indo-Asian News Service