In tight race, both sides eye the few Indian votes

By Adib Zalkapli, The Malaysian Insider

Insulated from the cries of Makal Sakthi, some 500 Indian voters are now the next target in the crucial Kuala Terengganu by-election and national Indian leaders from the Barisan Nasional (BN) are set to woo them at a dinner for them tomorrow.

MIC vice president Datuk S. Sothinathan said the party’s president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu would attend the dinner, along with BN election director Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

There are 523 Indian voters in the constituency of 80,000 voters but, due to the low margin of victory in the last general election, MIC believes that the Indian voters can make a difference and it has deployed more than 40 members and leaders to work for the party machinery.

“Our presence may not be felt here, but to show our presence we have to remain united,” Sothinathan said.

About 100 Indian voters live outside the district, Sothinathan said, so the party is trying its best to convince the outstation voters to return on polling day this Saturday.

He added that national issues do not concern the Indians of Kuala Terengganu.

“They are not influenced by Hindraf here,” said Sothinathan, adding that the party is working closely with the Menteri Besar’s office to address the problems raised by the Indians, such as employment, business and education opportunities.

“There also senior citizens who are still permanent residents but wish to get Malaysian citizenship, so we have raised this matter and hope to solve it,” he added.

“Wan Farid, as the Deputy Home Minister before, had also attempted to solve the problem,” said Sothinathan referring to the BN candidate.

In this by-election, Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh is running against Pas’s Abdul Wahid Endut and independent Azharudin Adam.

PPP’s Senator T. Murugaiah has also been campaigning actively in the constituency but to a wider audience, by getting three doctors to perform free medical check-ups for Malay villagers.

He agreed that the Indian voters in the constituency will not be influenced by Hindraf’s campaign launched more than a year ago to fight against the ruling government which the organisation claims has marginalised the community.

“It doesn’t work here. They have been living closely with the Malays, so they won’t listen to that kind of nonsense,” said Murugiah.

But PKR’s Amirudin Shari said there was still hope of getting the Indian voters to back the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) candidate, although he also had to admit that the cries of “Makal Sakthi” might not work in the east coast.

“Most of the Indian voters in Kuala Terengganu are civil servants. They understand the issues but there are obstacles, and there is no push factor,” said the Batu Caves assemblyman who won the Selangor state seat last year on the back of the Indian uprising.

Since holding its first major public rally in Kuala Lumpur in late 2006, Hindraf has been actively persuading the Indian community to reject BN and the leadership had endorsed PR’s campaign at various events.