Malaysia’s Punjabi party gets woman chief

Monday, May 3, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s Parti Punjabi Malaysia (PPM) has for the first time elected a woman president.

Susheel Kaur, 59, heads the party that her father Jeswant Singh founded 24 years ago.

Frustrated at the party being unable to gain entry into the Barisan Nasional (BN), the ruling coalition, she has hinted that it might move to the opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

A senior consultant who majored in social impact studies, Susheel Kaur was elected unopposed by more than 50 delegates at the party’s biennial general meeting in Ipoh.

Speaking to the New Straits Times, Susheel Kaur admitted that she was not cut out to be a politician but stressed that she felt responsible for the party which was founded in 1986 by her father.

She took over the reins from her cousin, Gurdeep Perkash Singh who had helmed the party for the last six years.

She served as the party’s secretary for 10 years.

With a Ph.D in population geography from Punjab University, Chandigarh, India, she believed that her academic qualification and working experience would assist her in formulating a new direction for the party.

She, however, acknowledged sentiments within the Punjabi community which saw the party as a weakling compared with other political groups.

“One of the reasons why the party has not been able to leap forward and become the de-facto voice of the Punjabis in this country is because of its repeated failures to gain admission into the BN.”

“We have been trying to do this for over 10 years now. Not fewer than six applications were submitted but all went unanswered. In fact, our latest application was made on Feb 2. We are still waiting for an answer.”

She added that it was an open secret that an Indian-based party within the BN coalition had opposed PPM joining the ruling coalition.

Asked if PPM, under her presidency, would continue to lobby to get into BN, Susheel Kaur said many in the party were feeling that they were already at the edge of their patience, with some believing that BN would never admit the party into its fold.

“The admissibility issue is a thorny one. If things do not move in a positive direction, PPM would have to consider other options,” she said, alluding to the possibility of the party joining Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

She said the party also needed to work harder to get more Punjabis to be members, stressing that the party hardly represented five percent of the 130,000-strong community in the country.

Malaysia is home to about 1.7 million ethnic Indians, a bulk of them Tamils.

With about 3,000 members now, Susheel said it would be difficult for the party to engineer socio-economic policies for the community unless it went all out to form partnerships or networking with the various Sikh and Punjabi non-governmental organisations in the country.

The single, soft-spoken president believes that PPM could not afford to be seen or treated as a weak political organisation.

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