"Indian support for the government is the worst it's ever been in the country's history," Welsh said. "It's profound. Indians have traditionally supported the government the highest." With Chinese voters also angry at the government - mainly over its handling of the economy - Welsh says the government risks losing control of the state of Penang, where ethnic Chinese form a plurality, as well as a handful of parliamentary seats scattered across the country. There is little risk that the coalition of Malay, Chinese and Indian parties known as the National Front, which has governed the country since independence from Britain in 1957, will lose its majority. Even though the coalition won only 64 percent of the popular vote in 2004, it controls more than 90 percent of the seats in Parliament, partly because after five decades in power the government has gerrymandered constituencies to its advantage.
But analysts fear that ethnic frictions could increase as Chinese and Indian representation in the government weakens. Underpinning the anger of the Chinese and Indians is an affirmative action program in place for 37 years that favors Malays and other smaller indigenous ethnic groups collectively known as bumiputra, literally "sons of the soil."Bumiputra make up 60 percent of the population but have 87 percent of government jobs. They receive discounts of 5 to 10 percent on new homes and have a reserved quota of 30 percent of any newly listed company on the stock market. Newspapers are filled with notices of government construction contracts exclusively reserved for companies controlled by bumiputra.
"It's completely unacceptable that you cannot get awarded a contract just because of the color of your skin," said Lim Guan Eng, the secretary general of the Democratic Action Party, the leading opposition party in Parliament. "That grates tremendously. We are treated as though we are third- or fourth-class citizens." The bulk of the Chinese and Indians came or were brought to the Malay Peninsula while it was still a British colony to work in tin mines or on rubber plantations, although some Chinese, known as Peranakan, came as long as five centuries ago. Yet Malaysia's ethnic classification is complicated by the fact that race is often an imprecise concept in Southeast Asia. Malays are a vaguely defined group that trace their ancestry to the Indonesian islands of Java, Sulawesi, Sumatra or as far as Arabia and India.
Lim points out that the father of Mohamed Khir Toyo, the chief minister of Selangor State, came from Indonesia. Yet his son is considered a bumiputra, while an ethnic Chinese person whose family has lived in Malaysia for centuries would still not qualify as indigenous. The biggest losers in the current system are Indians, who, according to government statistics, make up 9 percent of the labor force but hold 16 percent of menial jobs and control just 1.2 percent of equity in registered companies in the country. Indians are not aided by the affirmative action program, because it is based on ethnicity, not need.
More than economic issues, said Santiago of the Group of Concerned Citizens, Indians were infuriated by the highly publicized case of a Malaysian soldier, Maniam Moorthy, who died in 2005 and whose body was claimed by the Islamic authorities for Muslim burial. The authorities claimed that Moorthy, who was born a Hindu, converted to Islam months before his death. Moorthy's wife, Kaliammal Sinnasamy, sued in a civil court to obtain the body, but the court ruled that it had no jurisdiction because the matter had already been decided in an Islamic court. A ruling on Kaliammal's appeal has been postponed indefinitely.
The case, one of at least a dozen similar ethno-religious disputes reported recently in Malaysian newspapers, became a cause célèbre among Indians. "You can push us, you can cheat us, you can discriminate against us, but you can't tell us that we're not Hindus after we are dead," Santiago said. 11 books on Islam banned Malaysia has banned 11 books for allegedly giving a false portrayal of Islam, such as by linking the religion to terrorism and the mistreatment of women, an official said Wednesday, The Associated Press reported from Kuala Lumpur.
The government ordered the books - most of them released by American publishers - to be blacklisted this month "because they are not in line with what we call the Malaysian version of Islam," said Che Din Yusoh, an official with the Internal Security Ministry's publications control unit. "Some of them ridicule Islam as a religion or the facts are wrong about Islam, like associating Islam with terrorism or saying Islam mistreats women," he said.
The banned books include eight English-language ones, such as "The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and its Role in Terrorism," "Secrets of the Quran: Revealing Insights Into Islam's Holy Book" and "Women in Islam." There are also three books written in the local Malay language. International Herald Tribune