Malaysia's Pakatan opposition aims to lift all races from poverty | Connect Asia

Malaysia's Pakatan opposition aims to lift all races from poverty

Malaysia's Pakatan opposition aims to lift all races from poverty

Updated 24 April 2013, 14:55 AEST

Malaysia's opposition coalition says all races will benefit from its poverty eradication program, if it gets into government.

A senior member of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition was responding to Hindu rights group HINDRAF's pact with caretaker prime minister Najib Razak last week.

Mr Najib pledged to improve the economic and other rights of Malaysia's Indian community, in exchange for HINDRAF's electoral support.

High profile lawyer R. Sivarasa is campaigning to retain his seat of Subang, and a senior member of the People's Justice Party.

He says there's no need for such deals with any racial group.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: R. Sivarasa, lawyer and member of the Central Leadership Council, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the People's Justice Party

SIVARASA: I think that arrangement is being heavily criticised. I've just spoken to a number of Indians, who've expressed their views on this Memorandum of Understanding. Very painful for them to see, a group like (Hindu rights action force) HINDRAF who led them on the streets in 2007, opposing what 56 years of Barisan Nasional rule has done to the Indian community, and suddenly seeing a couple of those same leaders, sitting or lying in the same bed as Barisan Nasional - I think that is the problem.

LAM: My understanding is that Hindraf did approach the Pakatan Rakyat opposition, but was spurned by PR?

SIVARASA: Well, not quite. We did not quite spurn them. What we said was, Our manifesto encompasses the principles that they articulated in their blueprint, and alot of the key issues, for example, the main problem of statelessness, the state of Tamil schools, job opportunities and educational opportunities of the Indians, have all been addressed in our manifesto. Except that, when it comes to education and job opportunities, we address it on a non-racial basis, without specific reference to Indians as such.

What (Hindraf leader) Waythamoorthy has done with Barisan Nasional - he criticised Pakatan for not endorsing the blueprint. We said there was no need to, because there were aspects of the blueprint which we had problems with - because it specifically focussed on Indians. We said we can't. We have a multi-racial paradigm and on principle, we will not deviate from that. So suddenly, for signing a vague Memorandum of Understanding, they're giving full support, political support to the Barisan Nasional. People can see that. Anyone who has any objective analysis of the reality of Indians, of the Indian community in Malaysia today, will know that the root cause is UMNO (the ruling party).

LAM: It's all very well for Pakatan Rakyat to speak of a multi-racial paradigm, but isn't it the case that the Indians are coming from a much lower base - for decades, the Indian community has been neglected by successive governments?

SIVARASA: Well, the only governments that have neglected the Indians are the UMNO/Barisan Nasional - that's the only government they've had for 56 years - that's quite fundamental.

LAM: But what do you say to the premise that the Indians come from a lower base, and therefore they're a special case?

SIVARASA: I'm sure I entirely agree. i will agree that the Indian community occupies a disproportionate number of the 'hardcore' poor in this country. That I will immediately agree, alright? But we mustn't think that the Indian community has a monopoly on poverty in this country. No, obviously not. We have substantial numbers of poor in (the eastern states of ) Sabah and Sarawak, and also amongst the Orang Asli (aborigine groups), and amongst some Malays. Therefore, our approach to poverty is not a race-based approach - we're very clear about that, and we will not budge from that.

And we say, it's hypocritical for Barisan Nasional to talk about addressing poverty, when they've not done anything for 56 years, and they're suddenly talking about it.

LAM: It might be argued that the Malays (though there are poor ones) they have had positive discriminatory policies under successive New Economic Plans instituted by the BN government. The Chinese have the business community behind them. The Indians feel neglected. What will Pakatan do, if it gets into Putrajaya (the administrative capital). How will you alleviate the lot of the Indians and also the ethnic minorities, like the orang asli?

SIVARASA: By having a non-racial approach to poverty alleviation. In other words, put it this way - every poor person, regardless of race, will be helped. Will be lifted out - there must be efforts made, to lift that person out of poverty - by various ways - creating job opportunities, business or small business opportunities, micro credit, education and so on. But the fundamental point is, it's not being addressed on the basis on race. We're quite clear about that. So, our programmes will lift the Indians out of poverty, but likewise, lift all the others as well.

Now, of course, because it's under political pressure, the Barisan Nasional is saying - I'm taking the example of Tamil schools, ya. They're saying now they will treat Tamil schools, equally, as government schools. But they didn't say that the last ten years. (Caretaker PM) Najib Tun Razak, who's been prime minister of this country for the last four years, he didn't say a word about it. Now, on the brink of a general election, he's suddenly coming out and saying it.

On the other hand, Pakatan Rakyat in Selangor state, the state government has no actual political responsibility for education, but because we're committed to supporting the Indian community and other poor communities, and we know that the state of the Tamil schools is pathetic, we actually took part of our budget and we built a spanking new Tamil school, to show what these schools should look like. This is the model.

LAM: And finally, Mr Sivarasa, Hindraf says it's confident of persuading over 60 percent of Malaysia's one-million Indian voters - to back BN. Should the opposition be concerned?

SIVARASA: They can say what they want. I think the Indian voters in Malaysia today, are sensible enough to understand what's going on, despite the unfairness of the media, where Pakatan is completely cut out of mainstream (government-controlled) media, television, radio and mainstream press.

Despite that, I think enough Indian voters will understand the issues and will vote accordingly on the fifth of May. Let's wait and see. I just want to point out, despite the unfairness of the media battle, being attacked without right of reply, the wisdom of the voter will prevail on the 5th of May.

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