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Malaysia: 'A testing time for PSM'

Interview with PSM leader S. Arutchelvan, PSM secretary-general, conducted by Peter Boyle.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary-general S.Arutchelvan has been surprised by positive media coverage today in the Star, Malaysia's leading English-language newspaper – owned by a component party of the governing Barisan Nasional (BN).

(See http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2008/3/18/lifefocus/20640182&sec=lifefocus
http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2008/3/18/lifefocus/20640194&sec=lifefocus
http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2008/3/18/lifefocus/20640201&sec=lifefocus

The PSM has received growing media attention since it won its first federal and state parliamentary seats in the March 8 general elections, under the banner of Parti Keadilan/Justice Party (PKR). Another pleasant surprise came when they held a post-election meeting in their office in Semenyih, Selangor – in the seat that Arutchelvan contested but lost by just 1000 votes out of 21,000.

"We had a gathering at our service centre in Semenyih. We expected 300 to attend. To be safe, we ordered food for 500 but 1,000 came! Fifty people became members."

On the other hand, the governing BN has now begun to organise street protests ostensibly in defence of "Malay rights" – a menacing echo of events in May 1969 when opposition electoral wins were met with bloody race riots organised by government politicians. This then became the excuse for a period of martial law (until 1971) and the entrenchment of discriminatory laws against half the population of Malaysia.

I interviewed Comrade Arutchelvan through the internet on March 18.

* * *

 Picture of S.Arutchelvan by the Star

Q: How has the BN government reacted to the considerable losses it made in the recent general election? Was the recent "Malay rights" demonstration outside the Komtar building in Penang a warning that the ruling party May be contemplating a 1969-style backlash against opposition electoral victories?

A: They seem to be trying. But their demonstrations are not bringing in the crowds. Their divide and rule tactics among Chinese and Malay is not working as the Islamic Party (PAS) as well as PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim and other Malay leaders have come strongly to defend why they want NEP [NEP = New Economic Policy, the name for the discriminatory policies against non-Malay citzens introduced in the 1970s by the ruling BN] to go. Unlike previously, when the Malays were forced to support the NEP, this is not happening this time.

Comrade Nasir Hashim's election under the Keadilan logo to a seat in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly places him nominally as part of a state government. What challenges does this pose?

First they is a strong lobby among civil society movement that Nasir has to be given an exco [Executive Committee – state cabinet] position – that will make him directly part of the state government but there seems to be some hesitancy among the opposition including PKR because he is PSM. He will have to wait and see.

Based on his track record, Nasir deserves an exco position but the PSM will also wait and see. If he becomes an exco, then we will have more resources and will help the party but on the other hand we have to be careful as not all in the new Selangor government share the same aspiration or ideology with us. Nasir will have to choose when he agrees and when he doesn't. That is going to be difficult. However, currently,
based on the manifesto of the PKR, we are fine with this position.

Jeyakumar Devaraj, who won your first federal parliamentary seat, is now widely known and applauded as the nemesis of the notorious former minister of works and MIC chief Samy Vellu. Are there plans to capitalise on this extraordinary projection?

Kumar has an easier job as he is in opposition in federal parliament. But Kumar's role in opposing the Free Trade Agreeement with the US, neoliberal policies, etc would make this interesting because not all the federal opposition would share similar his political sentiments on these issues. We expect Kumar to make headway in parliament and show some differences.

What were the underlying reasons for the electoral swing against the BN? Was a rebellion against corruption a key issue and if so is it likely that the opposition-run state governments might make serious inroads to the ingrained culture of corruption in government?

It was protest vote against PM Badawi where people don't have confidence in him. Other isssues were rising inflation, corruption and high crime rate. Anwar also did play a role. My biggest worry is the culture of corruption and the fear that new opposition govet can get sucked into it. It will the biggest challenge.

Are there any prospects for political tranformations in a left-wing direction in PKR and other opposition parties?

Very unlikely. The left within PKR is very weak but these are the people we have to work with. There is also a left component within PAS and the Democratic Action Party (DAP). It is also a testing time for PSM to service our base areas in Sungai Siput, Jelapang, Semenyih and Kota Damansara and see how we can build our local power base with the people and see if it can be a model for PSM to play a bigger role nationally,
in the future.

[Peter Boyle is national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency within the Socialist Alliance of Australia. The latest statements and reports by the PSM can be found at http://www.parti-sosialis.org.]

Comments

New article by PSM secretary-general

THE PROTEST VOTE - PERMANENT OR TEMPORARY

- S.Arutchelvan

The 12th. General Election sends shock waves towards the nation. As the
results were coming out, one after another giant just slumbered to the
ground. Sharizat, Koh Tsu Koon, Kaveas, Zam, Samy Vellu. Who could have
imagined?

The poll saw the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, lose its dominant
grip on power after 40 years. Opposition parties won 82 out of the 222
seats in the parliament, a dramatic increase from the 19 seats they had
held. The opposition also gained control of five of Malaysia's 13 states
while it also won most of the seats contested in Federal territory.

The swing was nationwide. Five state going to the opposition - an
unprecedented result. The result was much better than then 1969 election
which send shock waves to the Alliance then, which resulted in an
emergency and the restructuring of the alliance which what is known as
the Barisan Nasional.

The Barisan Nasional continued the legacy of the Alliance in spirit and
in ideology. It created a rich class getting richer by the day and
divided the people using race and religion. Many times, the opposition
got caught up in this game and continued to tailor their politics
according to race and religious lines, in order to win a token number of
seats in Parliament and State Assemblies.

This time it was different. The message was clear. While the opposition
kept arguing during seat negotiation why they needed certain seats
because of the racial composition, the message send out in this election
is rather different and radical. The voters just got fed up with Barisan
Nasional, its leaders, its promises and its lies. The people went on to
punish the Government of the day, sending them packing, just 30 seats
short to take over complete Federal power.

The people were not bothered which symbol they voted for as long as it
was opposition. Malays voted the DAP while non-Malays voted PAS. The
younger voters choosed the opposition compared to older voters while
urban voters called for change compared to rural traditional votes. The
Indian votes went all the way to the Opposition.

What was most surprising was the fall of Selangor and Perak to the
opposition. These two state has a multiracial outlook unlike Kelantan
and Terengganu or even Penang, to an extend. If Selangor and Perak can
fall to Opposition control, then it won't take much time for the other
states like Negeri Sembilan, Johor and Melaka and even the Parliament to
fall to the Opposition.

When the candidate was not important

In 2008, the people voted for change and it was more a protest vote on
the ruling party rather than an endorsement for the opposition. This
election also saw that it most mixed areas, the ruling party lost its
grip. What was most surprising were that the voters did not bother on
who the candidates were. In Most cases, they just selected the
opposition party, sending a clear protest note to Barisan Nasional. The
people wanted a break and a change. Those who fell along the vote swing,
won while other missed in small majorities.

This election also saw the opposition having a straight fight in most
areas and the normal attack on DAP and PAS on issues such as Islamic
state did not seem to impact on the voters. The Opposition especially BA
(PAS & PKR) also had a simple practical manifesto which was popular.

What comes easy can also go easy

This election also saw a lot of inexperienced, first timers winning the
election because of the swing, sending a clear message that the
candidates were not important but rather which side was the candidates
belong.

Though this is really an awakening to the Barisan Nasional as
acknowledged by most of the BN component parties, it is also an
awakening to the Opposition parties. One should not be complacent with
the result. What is demanded is real hard work and true changes which
people have to realise.

What comes easy can also go easy. This is especially important for new
candidates who won the seat without doing any ground work. Now is the
time to prove to the voters that they have made the right choice.
Candidates should immediately service their areas as well as fulfill the
election manifesto.

The new state governments have to show their character

What is also a real test is for the new [state] Governments to show some form of
character. The new governments in the four states have to show that they
are different. One of the most important task is to neutralize party
supporters and members who may want to grab the many post or occupation
which comes with victory. The new governments have to come out and create
a new culture. Such new paradigm shift is only possible if the new
governments show good example like declaring assets, being transparent
and making themselves approachable to the woman and man in the streets

The new state governments, the Chief Ministers, the New Excos have to show
character in bringing about much needed change. They cannot be
bureaucratic and sluggish. They have to show the differences. For
example, they should do away with quota system based on race and
immediately replace with based on needs. It is these policies which will
ultimately unite the people from various ethnic groups and bridge the
artificial gap created by BN.

Barisan Rakyat ¡V who has the power ?

The new Opposition Governments are dubbed as Barisan rakyat (Peoples
front). Though this may be correct as it was the rakyat's choice. But
name itself is not sufficient. How the government performs will truly
reflect if it is Barisan rakyat or just another administration. In order
to be called Barisan Rakyat, the new Government, must at all times be
reflective of the wishes of the people and always get the mandate of the
people in implementing policies, must be pro people- pro workers rather than
pro-investors like what is portrayed by the previous government.

We have seen many times in history and neighboring countries, that new
State Government slowly becomes corrupt and make the same mistakes as
the previous government. This is largely due to the failure to break the
old mould and mode of thinking. It is also ideological orientated when
the change of Government does not bring about a change is system of
Governance.

To be Barisan Rakyat, it is critical that the New State Governments puts
the interest of the people above the interest of investors and
capitalist. This would be the biggest challenge to the new State
Governments under PAS, DAP and PKR.

The role of socialists and the left in this new environment

PSM's voice is a sole voice in the state government of Selangor where
Dr. Nasir Hashim won a seat while in Parliament Dr. Kumar would be the
first Socialist parliamentarian in 44 years. Besides this two, there are
also many others from other political parties namely in PKR and DAP who
share similar aspirations. There is a whole bunch of activist in the
current settings like people like Sivarasa, Tian Chua, Elizabeth Wong,
Chang Lee Khang, Hatta, Teng and many others.

Even now, a lot of civil rights movement have been approaching Dr. Nasir
and Kumar as they want them to push and ensure many things work out in
the new government. It is not going to be easy. The hope and desire for
change is long overdue. People suddenly see this opportunity and want
PSM members to play an important, pro-active and critical role in the
Parliament and State Assemble.

It is going to be an uphill task. PSM is committed to a minimum program
with the opposition parties. We support fully the Opposition BA
manifesto in the state of Selangor. The Manifesto would be a basis to
work together to fulfill as it covers many aspects of the needs of the
people and the workers. The manifesto truly reflects the slogan of a
welfare state in many ways.

Other critical joint ventures which PSM has been having with the other
parties like the abolishment of the ISA, freedom of assemble, against
the FTAs, privatization of public health care and many others can only
be realized if the Federal Government falls. In order to accomplish
this, it is important for the five opposition run state Governments to
win the confidence of the people. It is important for the parties to
work together to win the hearts of the people so that this protest vote
will become permanent.

Besides that, PSM who had been working with the workers, the urban
poor , the farmers have an additional task of being the voice of these
communities in Parliament and the state assemblies. But a mere sole
voice in State Assembly and Parliament, is not going to do wonders.
While PSM works hand in hand with PKR, PAS and DAP to ensure the ruling
parties in the five new states perform and built on the trust of the
people. Yet the party should continue to built and empower the peoples'
movement to be a parallel power to ensure that the politics is not just
resigned to the state assemblies and Parliament.

The people's movement has an increasing role to ensure that the elected
reps play an important role and to be truly representative of their
aspirations. Like what is stated in PSM's manifesto ¡V Building People's
Power. It is important that the people continue to feel empowered all
the time and not once in four or five years. Politics should not be the
monopoly of a few. It is therefore our biggest task to ensure politics
and change remain with the majority of the people and the workers.

S.Arutchelvan
18-3-2008

New Straits Times on PSM: The reluctant politician

http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/NST/Sunday/National/2193539/Article/i...

The reluctant politician
By P. SELVARANI

26 March, 2008

He is more at home in casual tops, slacks and sandals than in a suit or baju Melayu. Parti Sosialis Malaysia's (PSM) chairman Dr Nasir Hashim tells P. SELVARANI why he relishes the role but not the 'trappings' of a wakil rakyat SITTING in a mamak shop, comfortably dressed in a loose-fitting shirt and sipping a glass of kopi O, the silver-haired Dr Nasir Hashim looks nothing like the wakil rakyat most people are accustomed to.

The newly-elected state assemblyman for Kota Damansara admits finding the wakil rakyat tag, and especially the honorific Yang Berhormat, a little uncomfortable.

"Please don't call me Yang Berhormat. I am not used to it and I don't want to get used to it.

"It makes me feel awkward. By using YB, you feel you're one step ahead, so when people speak to you, they speak with a certain decorum... no, I don't like the protocol.

"I would prefer it if they just greet me with 'Hi, Nasir'. I can get more out of that. All this YB business is unnecessary. But they are learning. When they talk with me now they call me saudara, Dr Nasir or, just Nasir. That's how I want to be (known)."

The 61-year-old nutritionist, however, is no stranger to politics, although he is better known as a social activist fighting against the exploitation of squatters, plantation and factory workers, through the left-wing Parti Sosialis Malaysia.

Having contested twice in the 1999 and 2004 general elections and losing on both occasions, the recent victory came as quite a shock.

"If BN (Barisan Nasional) was shocked by their losses, we (the opposition), especially PSM, were more shocked by our victory," says the former academic.

The last time a socialist won a parliamentary seat was in 1964 and a state seat in 1969.

This time around, they won two seats - in the Sungai Siput parliamentary constituency (where PSM's Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj defeated MIC supremo Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu) and Nasir's Kota Damansara seat - albeit on a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) ticket.

(PSM could not use its own logo as it has yet to be registered as a political party.) Riding on a wave of "people power", Nasir said there was no looking back for the party now.

"We are not going back because we are doing good work and we have been getting good response from people.

"Nothing is going to stop us from moving forward."

But the sense of euphoria of being part of a the team that inflicted heavy losses to BN in its Selangor stronghold escapes Nasir.

While he is elated that the party finally won not one but two seats after a lapse of 40 years, what excites him more is the knowledge that the party has the responsibility and opportunity to show the electorate what it can do and the power to make things work.

"We are not an election-oriented party.

"We entered the election arena because things that we wanted to bring up in the state assembly or parliament sometimes did not get through.

"We gave them to our friends but sometimes they also have their own agenda. This is where the pressure comes.

"What we do is to empower people.

"Whether in the end, they support us or not, it doesn't matter.

"If they don't support us, maybe later, they might. Maybe we have not pushed enough. But if we can empower people, so many things can change."

But could PSM have won the seats on its own and not on the PKR ticket?

Nasir, who had been detained under the Internal Security Act before, admitted that it may not have been easy.

"On our own, the chances are that we may not have made it. But it's all the push-pull factor. It's like the winds of change come (but) you are not ready. When you are ready, the winds of change have bypassed you.

"When the winds of change come and you are ready, you are going in the direction that you want to."

With a socialist ideology that many still find hard to accept, Nasir said PSM was "going against the tide".

"But we tell people to judge us on what we do, so we cut down on the rhetoric.

"This time we have been successful but a lot more work needs to be done. They are more open to us."

"To me, yes, there are many factors why we won.

"Aside from what we have done, that may not be enough to pull us through but things have changed.

"Now the onus is on us to deliver. If we fail, it would take us another 50 years before the opportunity comes our way again."

He believes PSM and its partners have a good chance as long as there is continuous dialogue among themselves and they are sensitive to the needs of the people, especially the poor.

"There is a lot of idealism because the ones who are leading the team are young people with good ideas.

"They are not trapped by corruption and they want something good for the people."

Asked on the possibility of PSM merging with PKR, Nasir dismissed it.

Although he is now in the thick of decision-making in the new Selangor government, Malacca-born Nasir, who is a first cousin of (former Malacca chief minister) Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Tamby Chik, describes himself as a "reluctant politician".

"I feel awkward," he said as strangers keep walking up to him and shaking his hand during the interview.

"I feel so uneasy because people work for me. And when I give a talk, I say 'we did it' and then I get a small note saying 'talk about yourself'.

"People want to hear how great you are.

"I am not used to this."

Has being a wakil rakyat changed his life very much?

"Now I have to wear this baju Melayu and coat and shoes but I only have sandals. Even this is a tough type of change. But if it means that I can be closer to the people, I will do it.

"You know, I used to have a suit and I only wore it once a year when my students were graduating," says the former deputy dean of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Medical Faculty.

"All along the focus has been on the people. Now it is on me.

"I am uneasy. This wakil rakyat thing, I am uneasy, you know. I like to move where people don't know who I am.

"It's a dilemma. I know I have to get used to it but I don't want to get too used to it."

Now that he is in the government, Nasir has pledged to continue bringing up issues concerning the poor.

"But it will be more constructive. It's easier when you don't have a vested interest. What I need is a smile from people and I want to die smiling knowing that I did try and I did my best."

Malaysia: PSM opens new branch

PSM OPENS NEW BRANCH AND SERVICE CENTRE IN SEMENYIH

 

Semenyih, 18 March 2008

 

On 16th. March, PSM’s Semenyih Election Machinery organised  an Appreciation Dinner Night to thank all the supporters and volunteers who helped in the campaign during the election. Though Comrade Arul lost narrowly to the BN candidate but the atmosphere at the dinner was electrifying. People felt that we have won. Supporters from all over Semenyih came. According to event organiser K.Simon, “we expected 300 to attend but ordered food for 500 but around a thousand people came and we had to purchase additional food”. But the event was more than food.

 

The party flags and symbols were decorated along the road side. Many people honked as a sign of support. Four huge tents were set up.

 

The function was graced by PSM’s National Chairperson as well as Kota Damansara State Assemblyman Dr. Nasir Hashim, Dr Rosli Che Mat, MP for Hulu Langat, Comrade Dr. Kumar, newly elected  Member of Parliament (MP) for Sungai Siput and  Cikgu Lee, the State Assemblyman for Kajang. As Comrade Arul said, this is the first time so many MP and State Assemblyman have come to Semenyih to attend a function.

Also present were opposition party members from PAS, KeADILan, DAP as well as NGO activist from CDC, SUARAM, GMI and DEMA. Besides them, the bulk of the people were local people who helped the campaign.

The event started with speeches from Comrade Simon (Campaign Coordinator DUN Semenyih) who thank the team and all the supporters and volunteers for their hard work and support. He added that the campaign wouldn’t be success without a solid team. His speech followed by Saudara Che Rosli. Che Rosli in speech clearly stated that the mandate that has given by the people to him and Barisan Alternatif in Semenyih proved that the people’s agenda will be his agenda and he will work towards it. He also appointed Comrade Arul as his representatives for Semenyih.Comrade Kumar who beat Samy Vellu got a warm applause from the crowd. He told the people to be caution and that if their MP or ADUN forgot to carry their responsibilities as they promised then the people should warn and remind them. Cikgu Lee also in his speech reminded that the People are the real power and they should always watch and monitor their leaders.

Comrade Arul wrapped the event with a spirited speech. He paid tribute to the work carried out by the election machinery and the volunteers. He also made an announcement which brought tremendous applause that another PSM Branch and service centre would be open soon in Semenyih.

 

He also asked the people to assist PSM in various ways including physical help as well as financial assistance. He also stressed that the swing to the opposition in the election this time is because the people are fed-up with BN but stressed that we have to work hard to maintain the victory.

 

In a related development, 55 people have applied to join the party in Semenyih and the party has opened a new Branch there. The new members were briefed about the task of PSM and its socialist mission. The Service centre will be in operation at Fasa 5, Bandar Rinching which will operate three days a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For inquiries and assistance, please call 016-2578330.

 

 

 “There is no other definition of socialism valid for us than that of the abolition of the exploitation of man by man”.  Che Guevara

 

Written By

E. Nalini

Media Coordinator

Malaysia: PSM `will not compromise on urban settlers’ rights'

http://www.parti-sosialis.org/?p=253

March 27, 2008 -- Dr. Nasir Hashim, PSM National Chairperson and State Assemblyman for Kota Damansara declared that PSM will continue and always be on the side of the downtrodden, the workers and the lower income group in any issue which confronts the people.

He said while he supports “squatter free”, it should not be done in the expense of the poor. The State must recognize that most urban settlers (Squatters) developed and created value for the land before it was encroached by the developer. Therefore it is only fair that these settlers be compensated and given alternative land or houses either by the developer or by the state. Most of the time the developer conspires with the state government and the local government to forcefully and brutally evict the people who have been in the land for years. It is important to look at housing and shelter as fundamental human rights rather than narrowly looking at the laws which only recognizes those with titles.

We call for all the notices against Urban Settlers by the previous State Government to be revoked and an amicable solution with consultation with the settlers’ communities and activists working in the field be carried out. One immediate task for the State Government is to give directive to the Local Authority not to invoke the Emergency Ordinance, Clearance of Squatters Regulation 1969 which has been the biggest culprit in forcefully evicting the settlers.

I will raise these issues with the new State Government. We will continue to champion the rights of the Urban settlers. There will be no compromise on this.

Dr. Nasir Hashim

PSM: Legalise squatters


Zakaria's palace

Picture of police removing urban poor squatter settlers
in Kampung Berembang
just off one of the major
highways in Selangor state, Malaysia


by S.Arutchelvan*

The policy of the previous Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of the state of Selangor, Mohd Khir Toyo was to legalise illegal factories and evict squatter communities (urban poor settlers) because they are illegal. The reason is rather simple. They legalise illegal factories because they can make money out of them and similarly, they evict squatters, because they cannot make money out of them. This policy is ideologically rooted to ensure the interest of the rich and the factory owners are protected whereby the interest of the poor and the marginalized are neglected. One does not need to be Einstein to understand that this is capitalism in working.

The question is, if the state has the power to legalise factories, why it cannot show the same kind of compassion in legalizing squatters where thousands of the poor urban settlers live in. If the argument to legalize the factories is, because it gives employment to the workers (as being debated by some quarters) that the same rationale can be used to justify the need to give land titles to the urban poor communities so that they can live in harmony.

There clearly seems to be double standards here. One standard for the rich and one for the poor. Similarly Zakaria's palace**, was allowed to stand in spite of not having proper approval but many settlers homes have been demolished promptly by the local authorities under the guidance of the State government because they don't have proper approval.

In most cases, the urban poor settlers may win the race initially for being the first to develop and occupy the land but at the end of the race, they have to surrender the land to a developer who has bought the land. The laws written by right wing governments protect the interest of those with land titles. The laws in most cases does not recognize the rights of the poor and have a blind spot when it comes to fair play.

So when the new Justice Party (PKR) Selangor Menteri Besar, Abdul Khalid Ibrahim said that his government wants to accommodate the wishes of the squatters as much as take into account the costs incurred by the developer, it is not as simple as that. Developers want the land to turn them into property banks and make profit whereby the settlers want the land for a livelihood and shelter. It is an issue of class and it is crucial to see how the new State Government would balance the interest of two groups – the people and the capitalist.

On the issue of illegal factories, Khalid said, " He's (State Exco) going to visit all the illegal factories, help them to become legal and conform to the required standards, and so forth. We are not trying to chase them away, we are just trying to reduce the corrupt practices.".If similar efforts are taken to address the issues of housing of the poor, the housing problems faced by the urban poor settlers, plantation workers and other lower income group communities can be resolved.

Currently low-cost houses are built using the cheapest materials and built in the most remote places, inaccessible by public transport. While the rich can live in remote areas as they have their own transportation, the same cannot be said about the 2/3 people in Selangor. Once again, when developers built low cost houses where their income profit is minimal, they intent not to put their hearts in it, since the profit is not flowing.

It will be interesting to see which way Khalid goes. Would he break rank with the previous state Government and put people before profit or continue with policies, which make a few millionaires in the expense of the millions?
* S.Arutchelvan is the secretary-general of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) which won a state and a federal parliamentary seat in the March 8 general elections. PSM chairperson, Dr Nasir Hashim, who was recently elected to the Selangor state legislative assembly is a respected campaigner for the rights of urban poor "squatters".

** Former Selangor state assemblymember Datuk Zakaria Md Deros began building his palatial mansion - with 16 bedrooms (the master bedroom is as big as an apartment and its attached bathroom comes with a jacuzzi), 21 bathrooms, marble-tiled and many chandeliered main hall, swimming pool, mini golf course and a large garage - all without building approval. Approval was retrospectively granted.

PSM: Fighting for fair play

From http://sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=21293

 

Fighting for fair play
R. Nadeswaran and Terence Fernandez

Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, 53, will go down in history as having all but ended MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu’s 30-year-long political career. The Sungai Siput MP and founding member of the Malaysian Socialist Party talks to R. NADESWARAN and TERENCE FERNANDEZ about equality, justice and felling a giant.

Part of your campaign was a little "up-market", talking about trade agreements and the like. What are your reservations about globalisation and free market systems?

Historically, you see, even industrialised countries required tariffs to build their own industries. For example, Britain destroyed India’s textiles, destroyed India’s shipbuilding so that they could build their own industries. Even making salt was banned in India. They had to get salt from England. That’s how Gandhi’s salt march came about. So to develop their own industries, they imposed tariffs. After 200 years’ headstart, they’ve got the technology; they’ve got the infrastructure, now they are denying us the tariffs.

So countries in Asia and Africa have to be raw material producers for the rest of our lives! And the price of cotton, maize and coffee has come down over the years. If you look at the prices now, what we are producing has come down. Only now oil has gone up, and because of that rubber for synthetic rubber has gone up, vegetable oil is being used for fuel so palm oil has gone up. Previously, the terms of trade for primary products were coming down. So the whole international trading system is unfair and we have to challenge those things and it is unfair to restrict our industrialisation policy. The whole concept of intellectual property rights for a socialist is that intellectual property is one of the means of production that belongs to the people – not to individual capitalists or corporations.

When a person makes a breakthrough in a particular field, it is based on the accumulated knowledge of mankind over the last 10,000 years. The numeric system for instance, originated from India. Who’s paying them royalty for that? Each breakthrough made at this stage is not solely because of that particular genius. It is based on mankind’s accumulated knowledge which you are using to make that particular breakthrough. So to say the whole thing is mine and you have to pay me royalties for the next 20 years is not on! You did the work, you put in the effort, we should pay, but to patent it is not right. Look at the AIDS medicines. They are costed by the branded names and they cost 100 times more than the cost of production.

Look at Thailand, the cost of manufacturing is only US$1.

In India especially and they are trying to stop that. All these are obscene and we must speak out against it and not pretend that everything is fine. We may have a problem of governance, corruption or cronyism. But taking these away, we still have the problem of imperialism of control and bullying by the rich nations, big corporations and we cannot bluff our way around that. That’s why we are a bit worried about some of the other figures in the government who are a bit big on investment and talk about investment rates as such.

So is this why a country like Malaysia needs protectionist policies?

As a matter of principle, something like the NEP (New Economic Policy) is something that a socialist would not be against. You have affirmative action for certain groups who require help as you cannot rely on the free market and meritocracy to solve their problems. Under the free market and meritocracy systems, the orang asli will remain as they are; the Indians in the estates and squatter areas will remain as they are as they cannot compete in a free market. The free market benefits those who are able to compete, so for the state to provide affirmative action for the poorer groups is something a socialist will have no problem with. The only problem now is that we should not be defined by race or religion but by socio-economic need for all peoples – and since the Malays still make up the larger number of the poor, they would get the help. But we would like to stop the cronies from siphoning off the major share of it; only the crumbs are going to the needy. That has to be stopped. We must commit ourselves to helping the poor of all races. So the principle of the NEP which is to address poverty is something we will not be against. Only problem is it is now an excuse to make money.

But this kind of affirmative action is something that the FTA (free trade agreement) will not allow as the FTA’s stand is that the market solves everything which is bull****!

This is where PSM has an advantage compared to other parties. We have a comparative analysis that the others don’t. They have a tendency to be soft on the likes of (former World Bank chief Paul) Wolfowitz while we won’t.

Our role in Parliament along with other guys like Charles Santiago (Klang MP) or R. Sivarasa (Subang MP) – who share similar views – whom we hope that if we take this line of criticism, we will get people from the other parties to take on a similar position.

So there is a conflict of views among the parties in the Barisan Rakyat?

Ninety percent of our stance is no problem – talking about governance, corruption, welfare for the poor … they are already saying those things. But for those who think that the world trading system is fine and you just need to fit in and be efficient and win the game, that kind of thinking, we think is not going to be that easy.

Currently the game internationally is making it more lucrative for investors. You do that by cutting down waste cost, cut down environmental protection measures which are costly and you cut down taxation on profits to attract investors. When you do that, how can you subsidise expenditure for the poor? Something’s got to give somewhere. Unless you’ve got so much Petronas money to pump in, otherwise if you reduce corporate tax, for example Singapore is only 22% we are 28% we need to bring it down further, then something like the GST is something you need to impose because you need to get your income from somewhere, right? And GST is a regressive tax and this will affect those who spend most of their income which is the poor.

So it is all linked. Your policies to make Malaysia an investors’ haven so that they will come here and not go to China will in many ways impinge on the people because you need a low wage rate and you don’t have enough money to subsidise healthcare and transportation because you are reluctant to tax the investors.

Of course you can use Petronas money efficiently if you save the money that goes into crony contracts, plug the leakages, then you can put it into your subsidy programmes.

A system that taxes the corporation instead of the man in the street is perhaps what we need. But how do we do that without scaring away investors?

Maybe if the corporate groups don’t have to pay for corruption then they would be prepared to pay taxes.

What we need is an administration that is less corrupt, then with the money they (corporations) save on corruption and lax efficiency, they will be prepared to pay taxes.

There is this underlying contradiction between the free market world of corporate-led globalisation against welfarism espoused by the political parties.

What can the government do to improve healthcare?

What we want the government to do is increase the budget. It is now about RM10 billion a year. We want the government to increase it to RM15 billion, put in some Petronas money and push up the budget. We want them to have a separate health commission and pay the doctors more so more of them will stay in service. Also give them other perks like sabbaticals. Medicine is a fast evolving field. Nothing will be lost if every three years, a specialist is allowed to go abroad for three months to pick up some new skill. It’s not just the money, give them a chance to do research and learn a new skill. Give other perks that will improve the health sector.

Also freeze approvals for new private hospitals because if you have new private hospitals, then it attracts more doctors and specialists from the government sector. You cannot stop what’s already there but prevent them from expanding will help to ensure more doctors and specialists stay in the public health sector.

Ultimately it will help keep the health cost down as what we spend on insurance payments is huge especially on private hospitals.

Also, something like health tourism – healthcare is not the main focus as more private hospitals are being built to cater to health tourism.

You need a good core service in the public sector so that the government doesn’t keep losing to the private sector.

If you look at it, the private hospitals are not really private. One of the biggest chains is KPJ which is Umno linked; Pantai Holdings another big chain; Sime Darby is coming in, Petronas is coming in. All the GLCs are making health into an industry and making mega bucks out of it. The government has a private health industry and it seems that the government is deliberately running down the public health industry to promote the private sector. The two are linked! So we must stop approving new private hospitals and even expansion of existing private hospitals. And at the same time improve the service conditions for the staff. And to do that, put in some Petronas money.

I don’t think it will work if the Petronas money is not spent properly.

The problem is the leakages. Someone told me that the annual budget is RM140 billion and one-third of that is spent on leakages because you have got screwdrivers costing RM300 and that kind of bull****.

One Health Ministry official told us that the cost of constructing a private hospital is only RM260,000 per bed, but the government’s cost is RM1 million per bed. Care to comment?

We must think of getting an ombudsman to look into this kind of things. Also we should push for local council elections in the five states that are under the Barisan Rakyat and if we do it in these five states, it will put a lot of pressure on the rest of the country to adopt it. It will cut down a lot of this graft as they will be forced to face the populace. It will be a major step forward.

We have not faced this kind of opportunities before – winning five states, breaking the Barisan Nasional’s two-thirds majority (in the Dewan Rakyat), we can bring up things in Parliament. It is a period of opportunity. But it must be the politicians and civil society plus the media to make use of this and do something. If we fall flat on our faces, people will not give us this kind of opportunity again.

So what about Sungai Siput?

Sungai Siput must be a model constituency.

How do you define that? What are the issues there?

The orang asli issues, urban poor, squatters, permits for petty traders, small farmers without grants, new villages without grants … plenty of problems! There are also many jobless youths … young Malays and Indians without any qualifications. The unemployment rate is quite high. The factories here prefer to hire foreigners, so I have to look into these issues.

I have the advantage of that our party and our campaign attract a lot of people with conviction. They see PSM as doing something. A lot of them who come forward are good people. They are sincere and willing to sacrifice, so we want to see how to make it possible for them to come and work with us full time.

I will still work as a doctor a few times a week. My pay as an MP will go to the party programme so that we can hire full-timers. Their job is not in the office but out in the field. Sungai Siput is a large area. And of course, we have a core group of volunteers who have been there for the last nine years. It is our volunteer work which helped us win this time.

Hasn’t Sungai Siput been well taken care of?

They’ve got good roads-lah! Even the Peneroka Bandar, in town itself you have squatters who have been promised and promised but still have not got what they deserve.

What is your connection with Sungai Siput?

It dates back to 1977. We were involved in the Social Service Corps TLS (Tamil Language Society) where you have to stay in estates during the (university) term holidays. We kept going back, setting up kindergartens, tuition centres. Then in 1986, we had a full timer and then we saw that the problem of education is that we cannot educate people out of poverty, housing conditions, lighting, lousy estate schools and pay. Just saying "education, education, education" is not enough

You have to do more than that. That’s why in 1991 we began this Rural Development Programme (RDP) campaign calling on the government to extend all anti-poverty programmes offered to Malay kampung to the estates.

Until now, estates are considered as private, so it is the role of management. But management being businessmen don’t give as much. So we said the government should take over all the labour lines and living areas and consider them as kampung.

But there was no response from the government?

No. Not much.

Didn’t you approach Samy Vellu for assistance?

He said not possible, we are doing enough, all these excuses.

Did he help?

His way of helping is to just give money. What kind of help is that? Here we are talking about changing unjust structures, changing labour laws, employment conditions. That’s the kind of help he cannot do because he is tied by the system.

But in terms of giving money for a temple, a hall and building roads, putting tar on estate roads, those kind of help he can do, so we cannot say he hasn’t helped. We are talking about things affecting the distribution of income between the corporations and the workers and we are asking for laws to change that.

One of the things we are asking for under the RDP campaign is that if an estate is sold and workers retrenched, they should be given a house because they worked for three generations for you.

Unlike the Malay factory worker or estate worker, if the former is retrenched, he can return to his kampung; but the Indian workers who came here as indentured labourers; where can they go? You don’t pay them good wages to start with, they can’t buy a house so they eventually become squatters. Twenty years down the line when the urban area becomes more developed and the land they lived on and reclaimed and dumped soil and built drains and made more economically viable, that land is taken away from them because they are squatters. So they get double – kicked out of the estate with nothing and then kicked out of the urban areas. That’s why you have Hindraf. It is an accumulation of being pushed into a corner.

So what is your order of business in Parliament?

I’ve got to learn the ropes-lah! But Internal Security Act is one of them. I have been against the ISA for a long, long time.

There are two positions – one is to completely abolish it and another is following Suhakam’s suggestion to keep the ISA but cut down the detention time to a maximum of three months. You can’t keep holding people for two years.

The Suhakam annual report is not even debated in Parliament!

Now we’ve got one-third, we can ask for it. With the ISA, the strategy is whether to abolish it straight away or keep it as an interim measure. Like in India, after three months you have to charge or release them. But here, this two years multiple of two is worrying! These are the things we have to discuss. The Opposition has to strategise. Go for something pragmatic like the Suhakam proposal to reduce the stint or go for abolishing the ISA altogether.

You know, there are some who feel that you need the ISA in the wake of religious extremism! So we have to carry the population’s view also. So the thing is whether you want to be principled or pragmatic. Tie their hands so that the ISA doesn’t become so fierce! But that’s just my view. We have to discuss with the other parliamentarians as well as groups like GMI, Suaram and Hakam to come up with a consensus on what is the best strategy.

If it comes to a vote in Parliament, we won’t win the vote but if it is supported by a campaign, then they will have to listen.

So where did the votes come from for you?

Sixty-five per cent of the Chinese votes spun my way and 37% of the Malay vote which is lower than the last time (38%). I am a bit surprised as 2004 was (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad) Badawi’s good year. I don’t know if the Malays were confused about Hindraf. We thought it would be close. I thought I would lose by 1,000 votes. I didn’t expect this, especially the Chinese swing. The Indians of course swung my way.

It must feel good to be David slaying Goliath.

It feels great! It’s a combination of factors – the government becoming unpopular; Hindraf, Makkal Sakhti – but also our work for the last nine years also played a part. People have not seen a candidate staying back consistently after losing twice and being a regular. We actually helped out 20-30 communities here and in Penang. So people know that.

I am no stranger. I say "look I lost but yet I did this much, give me the power, imagine what more I can do", so it encourages them.

Even the 37% of Malay support is because of our work. We’ve been working with a health coalition and water coalition where PAS is involved so PAS knows us. PAS used its whole machinery to help us win. So it’s our work, PAS and Hindraf … to bring that guy down, a lot of factors came together.

He didn’t expect it. We too didn’t expect it. Until the last vote was counted I didn’t expect to win.


Updated: 11:36AM Thu, 03 Apr 2008
Printable Version

Malaysia: Anwar Ibrahim comeback?

About 20,000 people attended a rally in central Kuala Lumpur on April 14

to mark the expiry of Justice Party (PKR) leader Anwar Ibrahim's ban

from public office, a decade after he was sacked as deputy prime

minister. Anwar is claiming that he now has the support of enough

defectors from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to take government,

although he will not act until he has a bigger majority. The crowd

defied a ban on the event which was held in Kampung Baru despite scores

of riot police were deployed in a futile attempt to stop the illegal

gathering.


Malaysiakini photos of the event:.

http://photos.malaysiakini.com/black14/


Malaysiakini videos:

The rally:

http://www.malaysiakini.tv/video/15735.html


Anwar press conference:

http://www.malaysiakini.tv/video/15732.html

 

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/4/13/nation/20080413122901&sec=nation


The Star, Sunday April 13, 2008

‘PSM will consider joining Pakatan Rakyat’

By IVAN LOH


IPOH: Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) will consider joining Pakatan Rakyat

if offered a place in the opposition alliance, central committee member

Dr D. Jeyakumar said.


The Sungai Siput MP, who won the constituency on a Parti Keadilan Rakyat

(PKR) ticket, said PSM could work alongside the PKR-DAP-PAS coalition

because of similarities in their ideologies.


"Whether we are part of the alliance formally or informally, we will

work with them," he said when thanking party supporters in Jelapang on

Saturday night.


However, Jeyakumar pointed out that they would need to get PSM

registered first.


"We have already taken the matter to court and we will see how it works

out," he said.


The party's application to be a registered party had been rejected in

1999 and 2003.


Dr Jeyakumar said it would be less complicated if the PSM were to have

its own party, adding that candidates fielded in the general election in

future would not have to "borrow" party symbols for the contest.


On his constituency, Dr Jeyakumar said long-standing problems like

housing schemes for estate workers, squatters and land titles faced by

the people could be resolved with help from the new Perak Government.


"It is a golden opportunity for me to help my constituents," he said.




Is Pakatan Rakyat moving left, right or centre?
http://www.theedgedaily.com/cms/content.jsp?id=com.tms.cms.article.Article_126cda15-cb73c03a-1582a7c0-15e0b216

**

Malaysia: May Day rally proceeds despite police disruption

Friday, May 2

Malaysia: May Day rally proceeds despite police disruption



More than 2,000 people attended
1st. May 2008, Kuala Lumpur

All major newspapers this morning had a warning from the city police Chief asking people not to participate in the May Day rally called by JERIT. The Chief Police Office (CPO) of Kuala Lumpur, Muhammad Sabtu Osman stated that the rally is illegal as it did obtain police permit and those participating will be arrested under Section 27 of the Police Act. Consistent with the threat, Dataran Merdeka was cordoned off by riot police FRU. The crowd then gathered near the Bar Council while PSM leaders led by Secretary General S.Arutchelvan and Chairperson Dr. Nasir Hashim held negotiation with the District Police Chief, ACP Mohammad Zulkarnain.

After a tough negotiation, the police who initially decided to disperse the crowd back- tracked and allowed the people to gather and walk in smaller numbers. The organizers decided to compromise on carrying the banners. Besides that, leaflets on the importance of Mayday was distributed along the way. The crowd them moved in three-four people and walked to Confucian school where the main event was to take place. The walk was led by Comrade A.Sivarajan.

Whatever said, the May Day this year was once again disrupted by the police who does respect the democratic rights of the people. In spite of the huge victory in the elections, freedom of assemble remains curtailed. The Bar Council held watching brief of the events today.

The crowd then walked past the busy KL streets and moved into the venue of the event. Inside, around twenty newly elected State Assemblyman and MPs also attended the event. It was perhaps the first time that so many elected reps attended a mayday rally.


The event started with a big applause to the people who have successful marched to the venue. The vent was conducted in three languages. It started with a workers song. The highlight was when the demands were put on stage and each representative read out the demands. The May Day logo was the unveiled. The political parties’ representative then gave their commitment and pledged to carry out reforms on workers rights. The main speakers were Dr. Lo Lo from PAS – MP from Setiawangsa, Charles Santiago- DAP, MP for Klang, Zuraidah PKR, MP from Ampang while Dr. Nasir represented PSM.

Charles Santiago said that the Selangor State Government would try to implement RM 1,500 minimum wage in Government linked Companies in Selangor while Dr. Lo Lo said that reforms would start form the five states and it will be used as a pressure point for reforms in the Federal Government. Dr. Nasir spoke about workers power and their rights.

The event ended with the May day Declaration which has 15 points read out one by one. 102 Organization endorsed this years declaration. The declaration among other things called for Minimum wage, special retrenchment funds for workers, Housing for the poor and stop forced eviction, Abolish University and Colleges Act, give land for farmers, Abolish the ISA, Equal rights for Migrant workers, Stop the FTA talks and privatization of water and public health care, enact laws to protect women and resolve land issues involving the indigenous community.

The finally May day 2008 was concluded with the singing of the Internationale.

The organizing committee need to be applauded for continuing this great tradition of May Day. There are many other efforts done to commemorate May day but it is only when the spirit of the workers are alive can any event be successful.

Photos by Colin and Nalini E

Malaysia: ILLEGITIMATE DETENTION CAMPS at our doorsteps

http://psmsemenyih.blogspot.com/

ILLEGITIMATE DETENTION CAMPS at our doorsteps….Yet another shocking story of our migrant workers

Semenyih, May 18 2008

 

It came as a shock to me to see more than 900 Bangladeshi citizens in small groups chatting and hanging and some looking far away…around the PSM Semenyih branch office at Fasa 5, Bandar Rinching. This was at the end of February 2008. We were informed that they were stationed there by their Embassy, pending employment agencies finding them job. As it was election period, some of them helped us with election work and we provided them food.

One month later, after the election when I was at the PSM Semenyih Service Centre, the Bangladeshi workers were moving up and down collecting drinking water in bottles from neighbors. When we queried, they said, no water supply at their mansion. And then we heard from neighbors that these people are not even being fed properly – only 2 meals, a breakfast and evening meal. More shocking their numbers keep increasing.

Curiosity, led our team from PSM Kajang Branch to do a fact-finding with help of some Bangladeshi workers from CHG Plywood, Cheras on 1May 2008 – they helped to translate -a show of solidarity!

Initially, they were afraid to talk to us as they have 3 guards watching them and it seems they have been beaten few times for talking to outsiders. But after 15minutes, we were surrounded by about 15 of them and this is what they narrate:

“At any one time, about 800 to 1,000 Bangladesh workers are stationed here since 7 months ago. Our Embassy provides us breakfast at 10am and little food at 7.30pm. Agents brought us to Malaysia but after we arrive at the airport, no employers took us. Some of us was cheated,- in Bangladesh, we signed a contract that promises good job and salary but when we arrive here, they send us to a rural place to work at plantation without proper salary and some of us were taken to work in a factory and they pay us peanuts – we could not stand the humiliating treatment from our employers and we lodged complain to our Embassy and we camped outside our Embassy – the Embassy brought us here and we been staying at this mansion without any salary or money. We survive only on the food provided by our Embassy…..”

“The worst is we don’t have any valid document -passport or work permit, it’s with our previous employer & agent. We have to stay here until the agencies find us alternative job. If no job, then they will send us back and that is only if we could afford to find the means (money) to purchase travel ticket to return home by our self. Some of us do want to go home but where can we find the money when we already paid employment agencies RM9, 000 to RM12, 000 to work in Malaysia?

“We are not the only one, in Mahkota, Cheras and Nilai, Seremban too there are mansions with thousands of our country men…”

“Our living condition? Well, 800 of us sharing 12 rooms! We have no facilities in the house except water and electricity supply…. not even mat or pillow…we use our chapel for pillow…. we are like a sardine compressed in a tin…we cannot more around freely as we don’t have document…we are trapped here as if animals in the zoo…so, we hang around outside the mansion…. last month during RELA raid, 520 of us were arrested…we could only show them our photocopy passport and they released us upon some online checking”

We were given a document from Bangladesh High Commission Labour Wing dated 4 Feb 2008, which has the address of ‘Hostel’ for Bangladeshi workers facing problem with employers. It says, 6 premises in Kajang Perdana (3), Cheras (2), and Nilai (1) were rented to accommodate the workers. Copy of the letter sent to Immigration, Labor Department and District Police.

“Yes, we did sign a work contract in Bangladesh but we were not able to read the content, we believe whatever the agent says. We are provided a copy…please take a look…we are not hired by the same agencies though…”

We were shown a document ‘printed copy at Dhaka, Bangladesh’ written in Bahasa Malaysia and addressed to Top Intelgold Sdn Bhd located at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman. The letter says Malaysian government has approved the company’s application to bring in 1000 migrant workers via a letter IM.101/HQ-J/857-1 (2434) dated 06/04/2007. It also says that the company can bring in 260 Bangladesh workers and the names were listed in the document. It further explains the process of bringing in the workers. They were to work in the plantation.

The workers produced a copy of employment contract dated 10-4-2007 between Top Intelgold Sdn Bhd (called Employer) who was represented by Bangladesh Agent: Malay Trade International Ltd, supposedly a license recruiting agency and employee Mazad. Terms of contract states the employee will be working in a plantation as general worker (total workers: 540) with minimum basic monthly salary RM520 + overtime (3 hours) = RM739.18. Some important element in the contract:

- Levy RM540 will be deducted through 12-month installment, yearly medical examination fees to be deducted from employees’ salary.

- No EPF,

- Not allowed to participate in any political and activities of those connected with Trade Union in Malaysia and will be repatriated if found creating social problems.

- Female workers can be terminated within 24 hours if they are pregnant without consent from company

Any layman can see the gross violation of labor rights in the work contract. Even worse, in the above case the plantation company hiring the workers not mentioned at all when they should be the ‘rightful’ employers and not the Employment Agency or their subsidiary. The ‘rightful’ employer definitely can escape from any charges relating to the rights of the workers. Obviously Immigration and Labour Department are partners in crime pretending hard to be concern over the rise of thousands of migrant workers in Malaysia who are further subject to exploitation and humiliation.

What are your demands?

“Simple, give us job or send us home. We need our passport back…you cannot lock us here. We can find job on our own if our previous employers give us release letter. Some of us have labor cases but no information received. You know, if we are employed by plantation company, we are not able to work in factory because the levy is different –RM1, 200 for factory workers & RM500 for plantation workers – we even get arrested for this reason on allegation we are cheating the government! This long waiting and without anything to do is really killing us….we are worried of our family back home and our future…..we are even worried to go back without any money in our hand….we have huge debts because we sold our property and some of us borrowed money to come here thinking we have a bright future…..but look at us…worst than beggars! ”

Where do we go from here?

It’s a shame to note how our government has created brokers to rob from the poor migrants…. not in hundreds but millions of cash. Even worst the government has legal means to suck dry the poor migrant workers. All their imprudent policies has now led to 6 illegal detention camps with inhumane treatment.

Clearly the capitalist government of Malaysia has no mercy for the endless sufferings of these workers. Since cheap labor policy is the only means for the Capitalist to multiply their profits, there is no way we can put immediate full stop for their suffering. Whether the new government in 5 states can take lead to bring changes to the plight of these workers is still a big question mark as they too are very much in alliance with the business class e.g. no objection to FTA, which will encourage migration without border and law to protect the workers, be it local or immigrant!

So, do we have solution for these workers…

Released by,

Letchimi Devi

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