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Malaysia's Socialist Party: `People's power politics in practice'

PSM member of the national parliament, Dr. Jeyakumar (far right), its national chairperson and Selangor state assemblyperson, Dr. Nasir Hashim (second from right) , and the party’s three municipal councillors publicly declare their assets.

By Peter Boyle

March 24, 2010 -- The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) is extraordinary in many ways and on March 18 its member of the national parliament, Dr Jeyakumar, its national chairperson and Selangor state assemblyperson, Dr. Nasir Hashim, and the party’s three municipal councillors became the only politicians in Malaysia to publicly declare their assets. The declaration of assets and presentation of annual performance reports has become a routine for the party since 2008 when the PSM had its first electoral victories.

The PSM's political representatives are also obliged to give 40% of their income to the party but have been doing more than that. “This is people's power politics in practice. We come in poor and we go out poor”, explained Dr Nasir.

In addition, the PSM's representatives stick by the following principles:

  1. Building a society which is not cultured to be dependent on subsidies and allocation but a society which is built on principles and people's power.
  2. PSM leaders must play a role in eradicating feudalistic relationship with the people. Party leaders should reject VIP treatment, live a simple life and always be seen as being able to be approached by the rakyat (people). The people must respect them for the work they do and not merely the positions they hold.
  3. PSM leaders who hold public positions cannot be directors of profit-orientated corporate bodies.
  4. Local party service centres -- organised in every branch and to which local people bring their problems to be acted on -- have to be open in all areas where the party has fielded candidates, irrespective of whether the party won or lost. Elected representatives must make themselves available at their local service centre once a week.
  5. Elected party members can be recalled by members for under-performance at any time during their term.
  6. Aspiring candidates for general election must have served in a constituency for a period not less than five years. the PSM strongly rejects “parachute” candidates.

Over the last year, the PSM played very prominent role in the anti-GST (goods and services tax) campaign, which the Barisan Nasional (BN) government is trying to introduce, and in opposing the privatisation of public health care, campaigns for free education, better wages and the implementation of the minimum wage laws. The PSM also pressed the National Bank as well as the prime minister's department for loan restructuring and easy loans to be made available to the poor people struggling with the consequences of the global financial crisis.

While the PSM has not joined the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) or “People's Front” opposition alliance, it staunchly defends PR and works closely with it on specific issues. “We are a Pakatan-friendly party and we march with PR”, explained Dr Jeyakumar. "We support PR’s reform agenda but we also against capitalism and neoliberal policies."

I recently interviewed PSM leader Dr Nasir Hashim, a former detainee without trial under Malysia's notorious Internal Security Act (ISA), for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and Green Left Weekly.

* * *

The Malaysian state is determined to persecute Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on charges of "sodomy" once again. The last time he was jailed for years and later was released when the charges were proved to be trumped up. Is there clear evidence that Prime Minister Najib Razak's government is behind the laying of these second round of charges? And what do you think is going to happen this time?

Doctors attested to the fact that there was no penetration. This information should be good enough throw out the “Sodomy II” case out of the window. But the judges refused to budge and stifled Anwar's appeals at all levels. This strongly suggests that the judges have taken sides, as those who loyally support the government get promoted quickly. If the case continues or if Anwar is convicted, he will not be able to contest and lead the charge to take over the government at the next election due in 2012. This scenario is advantageous to Najib, who is presently limping politically, especially with many unanswered charges of serious wrongdoings against him.

Why did Najib's BN government launch these latest charges?

Anwar is making headway despite some MPs leaving his party. The use of race and religion by BN to garner support of the Malays (and thus alienating other Malaysians) is not taking root. People are going beyond race and religion to solve the problems of the country. Anwar is a charismatic leader and can swing votes and as such becomes Najib’s biggest threat/nemesis.

The public have become disinterested in the case because of the “nonsense” displayed by the judges and the BN political leaders. As such, Anwar is gaining more support from the public. The Pakatan Rakyat prefer to move on with their daily chores to meet and discuss issues pertaining to the development of the country. Of course, the issue of sodomy will be used to expose the desperate measures of BN through nightly speeches and roadshows being carried out by various PR leaders all around the country.

The Najib government has been making a lot of noise about foreign government interference around the Anwar trial.

It has been the order of the day that those who expose the abuses will be branded as anti-national or traitors (if they are locals), or accused for political interference if they are from another country. Continuing efforts to highlight the practice of double standards; decisions that discriminate and defy logic and pursuing the cause at international tribunals will surely embarrass the BN leadership and subsequently discourage investment into the country. So despite their accusation of political interference, the BN leaders are forced to listen to international protests and condemnation.

Compared to the time of the last federal election, do you think the Malaysian people are more or less intimidated by the federal government? And are the recent attacks on Christian churches in Malaysia part of an orchestrated campaign of intimidation?

The people are less intimidated by government propaganda, using the mass media for character assassination and lies. In the past, the BN would conjure up a “state of siege” using race and religion and, if this did not work, the BN would use their goons to create unrest by destroying and burning churches, temples and mosques and try to blame the opposition. This could be followed by mass arrests using the ISA to eliminate their enemies.

But now the BN has to worry that that such arrests would backfire on them, especially when their credibility is at its lowest ever and the BN is very vulnerable after its unprecedented loss of five state governments and one federal territory in the last [2008] general election.

For many years Malaysia's opposition parties lived under the threat of another "May 13" (the notorious 1969 racial pogrom -- encouraged by some ruling party politicians in response to opposition gains in a general election -- that resulted in more than 2000 killings). Is this fear still a potent force in Malaysian politics?

As long as there is racial tension, the specter of “May 13” will be used as a threat to intimidate opposition and protests. But the sting is not there anymore because those who experienced May 13, 1969, are now mostly in their 60s or 70s or are even dead and gone. The BN will continue to try to use racial politics to instill fear in the young generations, but most people are more interested on the bread and butter issues and the problem of employment. But some corrupt, hypocritical and lamentably infantile intellectuals continue to harp on racial and religious issues to advance their personal agendas.

At least one Malaysian commentator (Dr. M Bakri Musa) has spoken of a political civil war within the Malay section of the population. Is the long persecution of Anwar through the courts a symptom of the BN's significant loss of support among Malays?

BN and its component parties are in tatters. The power struggle within BN does not seem to end. They are clutching at straws to gain power and recognition. They need a different strategy to win over the people. But their corruption continues. The fact that the second reading of the GST bill in parliament has been postponed reflects BN concern at planned mass protests at the parliament. They need the money from GST but are not willing to review the efficiency of tax collection of the present sales and services tax system. They are not willing to stop the wastefulness, to stop mega projects, the escalating corruption in the granting of import licenses and giving concessions (such as control of tolls and amenities) to their cronies. In the past, they would have bulldozed their way in parliament despite the protests from the public. Now they have to appease the public in the hope of gaining their votes and support in the next elections.

A “civil war” may not be likely but the BN could suffer a massive vote of no confidence in these elections. So they still have to tread carefully.

Have you and PSM MP Dr Jeyakumar been able to use your positions as elected representatives to the Selangor state assembly and federal parliament respectively to speak out on this issue?

We have used the opportunity to speak our minds in the parliament and state assembly. We have been able to provide a critical analysis of capitalism; to promote socialism by defending workers rights and their welfare; and to push for minimal programs for the poor.

The politicians (BN and PR) have been made to respect our views, experiences and principled actions. They know that we don’t want to fine-tune capitalism but instead to get rid of it. They are trapped by the ideology of the day, that is to speedily garner power and wealth. Empowering the people is really not on their agenda.

As a state assemblyperson in Selangor, where the opposition PR is in government, I am given a yearly allocation to cater for the needs of the people in my constituency but Dr. Jeyakumar and all opposition national MPs are not given any such allocation.

We are not afraid to call street demonstrations and more often than not our socialist comrades lead the coalitions for such actions.

[Peter Boyle in national convenor of the Socialist Alliance of Australia.]

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Video in bahasa: PSM on closer cooperation with Pakatan

March 18, 2010 -- Malaysiakini -- Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) may consider joining the opposition coalition if it agrees to the party's manifesto.

PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvan said, "We will support the Pakatan Rakyat in both the state assembly and parliament.

However, if the coalition puts forward motions which are against the principles of PSM, "we will oppose strongly," he said while talking to reporters after the annual asset declaration ceremony today at Chinese Assembly Hall.

He added that although currently cooperation with the Pakatan Rakyat is minimal, PSM may join forces with the former in future if it is willing to struggle for free higher education and fight against the privatisation of hospitals.

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