MELBOURNE, Sept 19 — A new battleground has been staked out by Malaysian politicians from both sides of the divide and it isn’t even within the country’s borders.
Yes, Australia — or more specifically the 23,245 Malaysian students here — has been in the gunsights of recent visitors like PKR’s Nurul Izzah Anwar, DAP’s Tony Pua and even Malaysia Today blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin.
In fact, this week will see two chief ministers — Malacca’s Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam and Penang’s Lim Guan Eng— visiting Melbourne.
Lim will be meeting students of the University of Melbourne and Monash University today. He is slated to speak on good governance using Penang — which fell into opposition hands in the last general election — as an example as well as human rights and transparency in Malaysia.
And on Saturday, Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water Datuk Seri Peter Chin and Ali Rustam will speak at a development forum organised by Kelab Umno Australia Melbourne.
The fight for the hearts and minds (and, of course, votes) of Malaysians living in Australia has certainly picked up in the past year. And why not?
Apart from the high number of Malaysian students here, there is also a huge Malaysian diaspora in Australia. A 2006 census showed 92,330 Malaysians residing in Australia (the number would most certainly have grown by now) and that can translate into quite a healthy number of votes. For either coalition.
University of Melbourne final-year commerce and management student Gajanayagam Jeyasundram, who is also chairman and chief executive officer of the Victoria chapter of the Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia, said the increasing importance of Australia to Malaysian politicians is understandable.
This is because Malaysian students in Australia alone “make up 36 per cent of Malaysia’s students overseas, ahead of the 24 per cent in the UK.”
Of these, many are obviously aware as was evidenced in the recent Bersih 2.0 campaign. Architect David Teoh, a graduate of the University of Melbourne, was the co-ordinator of Bersih 2.0 in Australia.
“Four thousand people worldwide took part in parallel peaceful Bersih rallies. Of these, 2,000 were in Australia,” said Teoh.
The coming weeks will see visits here by PKR’s Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary-general S. Arutchelvan and Bersih 2.0 chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan.
Never mind when the next general election is going to be — end of this year or beginning of next? — the fight is obviously on!