Ethnic Indian voters could singe ruling party
With a small knife, plantation worker Ramalingam Tirumalai makes raw incisions on the rubber trees every morning to harvest the oozing gooey latex.
Just like the gashes on the trees, Ramalingam says, countless wounds have been inflicted by Malaysia's government on the country's ethnic Indian minority, denying them jobs, education, freedom of religion and most of all dignity.
"We have been independent for 50 years," the stocky 53-year-old man said of his country, Malaysia. "But there has been no change in the lives of Indians."
Seething anger among ethnic Indians is likely to singe the government during parliamentary elections on March 8. No one doubts that the National Front coalition, which has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, will return to power. But it is expected to fall short of its 2004 landslide, when it won 91 per cent of the seats. Anything less than a two-thirds majority would signal plunging support for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Voters are upset by rising prices and a surge in urban crime. Ethnic tensions are also at a high, largely because of the increasing influence of Islam in daily life.
"We need a new kind of leadership," Ramalingam said in an interview near his plantation in Rinching town, about 45 kilometres from Malaysia's main city, Kuala Lumpur.
The National Front is dominated by the party of the Muslim Malay majority, which make up 60 per cent of the country's 27 million people. The Front also has the support of some ethnic Chinese, who are 25 per cent of the population, and some Indians, who are eight per cent.
Indians have traditionally voted for the Malaysian Indian Congress, their party in the National Front.