Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights

Malaysian Socialists on Bumpy Road to Revival

KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 2 2012 (IPS) - As Prime Minister Najib Razak prepares to dissolve parliament for snap polls, Malaysia’s socialists are seeing an opportunity to make a comeback after nearly five decades in the political wilderness.

Socialists, an important part of the political landscape in the 1960s, were eclipsed by extensive state action against left-wing groups. Internal bickering and infighting among leftists took care of the rest, leaving people without an important voice in this Muslim majority country.

“We will contest in four constituencies,” said Arulchelvam Subramaniam, secretary-general of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) – a party registered in 2008 after 15 years of struggle to gain recognition – in an interview with IPS.

After the ruling party rejected PSM’s application to register as a political party, saying the party was represented a threat to national security, the matter went before a court of appeal which, on Aug. 16, 2006, ruled that security was a bad reason to deny the constitutional right to form a political party.

“Winning in the elections is not the sole criteria for us,” Arulchelvam said. “The more important task is to sensitise opposition colleagues to the plight of the masses and empower them in meaningful ways.”

In the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution Islamism expanded tremendously in Malaysia and became a new political ideology promoted by the National Front, which has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957.

By the 1990s Islamism had become entrenched and became the main ideology of the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) party, the bedrock of the ruling, 13-party National Front government.

The opposition Malay party, PAS, directly uses Islam as its ideology and campaigns for an Islamic theocracy. While UMNO professes secularism using Islam as a tool for mass mobilisation, PAS is openly theocratic.

The PSM is not a member of the three-party opposition People’s Alliance or Pakatan Rakyat coalition that is challenging the National Front’s monopoly on power. It does, however, support the coalition in parliament and outside on issues and policies that benefit the working class and peasants.

“We support them (People’s Alliance) but we are not beholden to them. We chart our own independent course in parliament and outside,” said Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, the PSM’s sole legislator in parliament told IPS.

Socialists hope to double their standing in parliament and state assemblies in the general elections, which must be called before May next year but are widely expected before September.

Socialists have to battle their own colleagues who often mirror National Front MPs in their thinking and in the “handout mentality” that runs deep in the political system.

Currently, the Prime Minister and his deputy are crisscrossing the country announcing new local projects like the building of a mosque, upgrading old schools and handing out cash to voters.

Patronage is an effective political tool not only for the National Front but also for the Pakatan Rakyat, which uses the same methods to influence voters in the states where it is in power.

“We socialists are opposed to it (patronage) and want to educate the people that such handouts are temporary and do not solve problems in a permanent and effective manner,” said Arulchelvam.

Last week, parliament was informed that close to Malaysian ringitt 650 million (212 million dollars) in “urgent allocation” were given out in the form of small local projects by the Prime Minister and his deputy in the ten weeks to Mar. 15.

PAS leader Mohd. Firdaus Jaafar has criticised the government for spending “profligately” in the short term without regard to the rising cost of living and high inflation in the country.

“They just want to win the elections at any cost,” he told IPS.

“Part of the job of a socialist politician is to sensitise opposition colleagues in the Pakatan Rakyat against handout policies,” Arulchelvam said. “At the same time, socialists have to be clean and above suspicion to educate and empower the masses while campaigning to win elections.”

Unlike many opposition politicians who have not declared their assets, socialists declare their assets annually and maintain a frugal lifestyle in keeping with an image of being the people’s champions.

“What we need are long-term, fundamental changes in policies that benefit the workers, not the employers,” said Arulchelvam. “We tell our colleagues to ‘give if you have to give’ but educate the masses as well.”

Political analyst Ong Kian Meng said the handout policies of the National Front are having a big impact on the masses who are expected to vote for the National Front. “Handouts have an immediate and direct appeal to the people,” he told IPS.

Prime Minister Razak is openly using a direct “I help you, you help me” approach with voters.

“I can improve your lives if you vote for me,” he says in his almost daily public meetings, where he announces funds for small local projects or hands out cash, bags of rice and other food materials or cement and material for house construction.

Socialists have a tough job countering such tactics and the brave band of leftists that has emerged after the long struggle for acceptance has little to offer but an alternative political voice.

Republish | | Print |

deep learning online book