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New Malaysian Indian Party

A new political party for Malaysia’s ethnic Indian minority was launched on 19 Mei 2009, with its leader saying it would fight discrimination against the disadvantaged community.

The Malaysian Makkal Sakti (People’s Power) party is an offshoot of the banned rights group Hindraf, which had five of its leaders detained without trial after mounting unprecedented anti-discrimination protests in 2007.

The party’s leader, R. Thanenthiran, took on a prominent role in Hindraf after the detentions, which ended in recent weeks when the five were released by newly appointed prime minister Najib Razak.

“Each and every citizen of this country should be treated equally,” Thanenthiran told a press conference held to launch the party.

“This party will house Indians from all walks of life under one umbrella, besides acting as a bridge to unite the multiracial people of Malaysia.”

Ethnic Indians, who make up less than eight percent of the 27 million population of the mainly Muslim-Malay country, say they fare badly in terms of education, wealth and employment opportunities.

Thanenthiran said 5,000 members had already signed up, and that he aimed to build membership to 300,000 within a year.

He said the party would remain independent, but would “work with any coalition or party which gives benefits to Indians.”

Registering a new political party can be difficult in Malaysia — a socialist party was only recently approved after a decade-long struggle — but Thanenthiren showed the press conference a certificate of approval.

Despite the speedy registration, he denied that Makkal Sakti would lean towards the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has been abandoned by Malaysia’s minorities.

The coalition, led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which represents majority Muslim Malays, was battered in general elections a year ago when ethnic Chinese and Indians switched to the opposition.

Chinese and Indian-based parties within the coalition were wiped out, and the government has been searching for ways to reconnect with minorities.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said that race-based parties were not the way forward for Malaysia, and that Makkal Sakti would struggle because it lacks the backing of other top Hindraf figures.

“Deciding to join the BN coalition would be a mistake as… the new party would be viewed as selling out,” he said.

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