On Elections: Did MIC need Indians?

Modern democracy works fundamentally on the premise that the parties need the voters and therefore have to represent their interests.

Similarly, ethnic politics in democracies and electoral authoritarianism depends on the premise that ethnic communities and ethnic parties need each other.

If ethnic parties do not need their ethnic bases — to be precise, as much as they do other constituencies (either other ethnic group or non-ethnic groupings) — to win the elections, then they need not to represent their ethnic interests. And if the parties don’t, their ethnic base do not have incentives to continue supporting the parties – to be precise, more than other parties.

In other words, if there is no positive feedback loop between an ethnic party and its ethnic base, the ethnic party should soon cease to exist or function as an ethnic party. This may mean the end of ethnic politics or the emergence of some other ethnic parties to replace the dysfunctioning one.

This simple logic seems to make a lot of sense in Malaysian politics. UMNO will always articulate ‘Malay interests’ (whether they truly exist or what they are is another issue) to woo the Malay voters because they need the Malay support. Similarly, MCA needs to show the Chinese that it can deliver its promises in safeguarding ‘Chinese interests’ (again whether they truly exist or what they are is another issue) because it needs the Chinese support. And when the Malays and the Chinese think UMNO and MCA fail to do their jobs well, these voters swing to support the opposition parties, as the Malays did in 1999 and the Chinese in 1986 and 1990.

What about Indian politics? I am no expert in Malaysian Indian politics but looking at the data I have, I can’t help but wonder one question in the aftermath of the November 25 Rally.

Does MIC need Indians, and are therefore electorally bound to serve the Indians’ interest (which need not be understood in a communal sense)?

In 2004, MIC contested in nine parliamentary constituencies and won all nine of them. They won very handsomely that MIC candidates enjoyed a margin (what popularly known as “majority”, namely the difference between the votes won by the winner and first runner-up) of more than 20% except in Kota Raja and Kapar. With the sole exception of Kota Raja, these margins were higher than the percentage of Indian and “other” voters in the constituency.

Assuming the percentage of voters casting valid votes in every ethnic community is the same, then MIC could have won all the eight seats even if they did not win a single Indian vote. Crudely speaking, MIC only needed Indians for Kota Raja (where the blue line fell below the pink one in the chart below).

Did MIC need Indians in 2004?

In 1999, MIC could secure four of its seven seats even if they have been abandoned by all Indian voters. MIC however needed Indians in Sungai Siput, Subang and Kapar, although they might well need other voters even more.

Did MIC need Indians in 1999?

In 1995, when BN was at its height of electoral support, MIC still carried even its weakest seat, Sungai Siput with a margin larger than 30%. It was crystal clear that MIC did not need any Indian votes in the elections so long it could maintain the support from other votes.

Did MIC need Indians in 1995?

In 1990, when the Chinese heavily supported the Opposition and the Malays were divided between Mahathir and Kuli, Indians were pivotal for MIC victory in Sungai Siput and Segamat, and assuring for that in Tapah and Kapar.

Did MIC need Indians in 1990?

In 1986, when BN enjoyed higher Malay support, MIC could win five of its six seats without a single Indian vote. Like in the following elections, Sungai Siput was the only seat MIC needed at least some Indian votes to fend off challenger.

Did MIC need Indians in 1986?

In 1982, when the then new Prime Minister Mahathir was enjoying his honeymoon with Malaysian voters, MIC again could win without Indian support.

Did MIC need Indians in 1982?

Did MIC need Indian support? The answer was an “Absolute No” in 1982 and 1995 and a “largely No” in 1986 and 2004. Only in the turbulent years of 1990 and 1999, did MIC, and by extension BN, need some Indian support.

Given the electoral insignificance of Indian votes in MIC seats, why must MIC pursue “Indian interests” as interpreted by its ethnic base?

The wise men and women amongst you, would you enlighten me?


2 responses to “On Elections: Did MIC need Indians?

  1. Well, if your data and analysis are correct, then I guess the short answer is – they don’t. Which is why it is how it is.

    But this sounded pretty f-ed up when you said it:
    “Given the electoral insignificance of Indian votes…”
    Perhaps you intended it in a different way than it came across. Perhaps you meant “Given the electoral insignificance of Indian votes in MIC seats”, because what about the swing constituencies? Because in a tight race, every little bit would matter.

    It could just be semantics, but I had to bring it up because it’s just such a trigger to hear about Indians, or Indian votes, or Indian clientele or Indian opinions, or Indian whatever (you name it, I’ve heard it) being insignificant, because that’s the message I’ve gotten time and time again growing up in Malaysia.
    Just my two cents….

    Have made the change. My message is really that Indians would not matter on their own but would matter a lot when they join force with others. I had a commentary on the Sun a few weeks ago (dont have the soft copy as the published version was edited for space concern.)

  2. i don.t concur with your analysis. in an election every single vote counts that is why a veteran who continuosly wins more than ten times would still go to every street if possible evey house to canvass for his eleventh election. And remember even a one vote majority can determine an election result.

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