KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 ― Several ethnic Indian leaders have called for more representatives from their community on Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) presidential council, but insisted this would not mirror Barisan Nasional’s (BN) racial structure.
Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Prof P. Ramasamy, who is from DAP, suggested talks with Indian leaders from PH rather than approaching Indian rights group Hindraf, who reportedly met Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to talk about joining PH and contesting the 14th general election.
“PH is not BN, but it is important to recognise groups and communities that have been left out. Recognition of differences does not render PH racial,” Ramasamy told Malay Mail Online.
He noted that PPBM and Parti Amanah Negara “are not exactly multiracial parties”, and non-Malays are only represented in PKR and DAP.
The PH presidential council’s top three posts of chairman, president and de facto leader are filled by Malays ― Dr Mahathir, and PKR couple Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, respectively.
Meanwhile, the seven deputies and vice-presidents are also mostly Malays, with two Chinese representatives from the Chinese-dominant DAP. DAP’s M. Kulasegaran, as PH treasurer, is the sole Indian representative on the council.
Membership with full voting rights in the Malay-dominant PPBM is limited to the Bumiputera; non-Bumiputera may join as associate members who are not allowed to vote or to run for office within the party although they may be appointed to certain party positions.
Although membership in Amanah is not limited to Muslims, the party states in its vision that it aims to be the main Muslim party in Malaysia and its constitution requires both its president and deputy president to profess a “profound understanding of and commitment towards Islam”.
PKR vice-president Dr Xavier Jayakumar told Malay Mail Online the PH presidential council has said it will look into increasing Indian representation in its line-up.
“We have been given assurances that they see the need to have more Indians in terms of representation,” he said.
When asked if the PH presidential council should also add representatives from the Orang Asli community as well as from Sabah and Sarawak ethnic groups, Dr Xavier said the focus should be on resolving problems of minority groups and not necessarily appointing representatives as a “showpiece”.
“I would prefer that I have a Malay leader or a leader of Pakatan Harapan that recognises problems faced by the minority, like Indians, Orang Asli, Kadazans and Ibans and all that, and whether there will be some concerted effort to approach this problem,” said the Seri Andalas assemblyman.
He said that he and Charles Santiago from the DAP are currently organising a roadshow in a few states to look at issues facing the Indian community, with the first held in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday.
“We had a whole list of things that Indian grassroots think should be done. The leadership should take it up and say this is what we want to address in the manifesto,” said Dr Xavier.
DAP’s Santiago admitted there was public perception that PH was not addressing the Indian community.
“When you see pictures, you see Mahathir, DAP's face. Where is the Indian face?” he told Malay Mail Online.
The Klang MP warned PH that the Indian electorate would hold the deciding vote in three-cornered fights in the general election, pointing out that current polls showed the community bordering slightly more than half in support for the federal Opposition coalition.
“But when the elections are called, the numbers can go down,” Santiago said.
However, he also cautioned the PH leadership not to go by former prime minister Dr Mahathir’s “model”.
“Don't jump into another BN, where you have Indians representing Indians, Chinese representing Chinese and Malays representing Malays.”
Santiago added that Hindraf was no longer relevant to Indians due to “major compromises” taken by the movement’s leaders over the years.
PKR central leadership council member Latheefa Koya said the current PH leadership structure was not satisfactory in relation to Indians.
“Kula’s position is perceived as tokenism. We have other Indian leaders who are prominent in taking up issues that particularly affect Indians.
“It’s strange when none of this talent, which is well-known to the Indian voters, has [a] place in the structure. Why this limited structure?” she told Malay Mail Online.
She added that increased Indian representation did not mean PH would be race-based, saying: “It’s about inclusivity”.