Malaysia Polls: Why does it matter to India?

For us in India, the impression of Malaysia in our heads atleast for the Middle Classes are the beautifully shot ads of ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’ with pristine Langkawi and Suria KLCC shopping district shown in them. Or for folks who have watched the Tamil Film ‘Billa’, the scene at the top of the Petronas Twin Towers was captivating. The Bollywood Hit ‘Don’ featuring Shahrukh Khan who is hugely popular in Malaysia had major sequences picturized in Melaka, which remind us of Malaysia. Well, Malaysia is a complex society with even more interesting politics. This post is about it and what does it mean for us.

Recently a feisty Malaysian General Elections just got over and ofcourse the grand old dispensation of the Barisan National won, with a wafer thin margin. This time, at least in Urban Peninsular Malaysia aka Selangor,Johor,  Negeri Sembilan and Penang the opposition alliance the Pakatan Rakyat led by the controversial and charismatic Anwar Ibrahim was expected to clinch power for the first time since 1957. Traditionally East Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak votes en mass for the Barisan National with the Sarawak People’s Party in Kuching holding sway. Sabah also has its regional party which usually wins. These parties are part of the ruling alliance.  East Malaysia is rural and is the heart of Barisan National’s base, apart from Utara Malaysia (Northern Malaysia) states like Kedah and Terengganu. The southern Thailand bordering states are the crucible of Malay Nationalistic sentiment. If the 2008 General Elections were an inflection point for Malaysian Politics, then the 2013 one is a watershed. The Chinese Community with quarter of the vote abandoned the Barisan constituent The Malaysian Chinese Association and voted in favor of the Opposition Democratic Action Party which is of course ‘Cina man’ dominated. They swept Penang and made major headways in Johor bordering Singapore.

The Grand Old Party UMNO- the behemoth of Malaysian Politics since the pre-independence era, has a membership base of 3 million people. It has roots all over the country like veins (An Indian Equivalent roughly would be the Congress). It instituted the race based affirmative action ‘Bumiputera’ policies which has often pitted the Malay majority versus the entrepreneur centric Chinese community with the ethnic Indian Tamil speaking ‘Makkal’ (or people).

This election has been contested by the opposition because of wide spread allegation of voter fraud.  This has lead to discontentment among the Chinese. Surprisingly the Indian Community voted in favor of Barisan with the Malaysian Indian Congress winning four seats. There were other Indian Candidates who won seats being opposition members too.

India (especially the Tamilakam) has had a historic relationship with Malaysia since ancient times and being colonized by Britain we have always shared a close relationship. Tamil Nadu shares a close bond with Malaysia because of its Diaspora there totaling a million odd residents. Indian Food, Films and Culture is hugely popular there. We are a part of the conversation in KL, but KL is not a major conversation issue here. In fact, as written in Parag Khanna’s ‘Second World’ ; India’s engagement with Malaysia is so poor at the level of the State, that Malaysia does not bother to involve us in any serious strategic affairs matter. In fact, Pakistan is a major actor in Malaysia given the OIC relationship.

We almost have a FTA with Malaysia now and Maxis owns a large stake in Aircel and Sun Networks (call it the Maran connection leh).  Both the countries adhere to Dynastic politics with Najib being the son of a former PM himself. The good old ‘doctor in the house’ Mahathir, is himself half Indian with his Father being a Tamil Muslim.  He is the champion of the Malay cause. Identity politics can get really weird.  Well, the champions of the Marathi cause in Mumbai originally hail from Central India.

We need to maintain good relationship at the level of the State with Malaysia, as it would give us a head start in dealing with ASEAN along with being a big market too for our exports. At this moment, I would like more Malaysian restaurants to open in Mumbai now (Chennai has some orready ah)

I like my Kopio strong !

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