If Malaysians turn red: Socialist Party of Malaysia outlines what its first 100 days in power might look like

April 25, 2022 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from MalaysiaKini — Since its inception in 1998, the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) has been labouring to construct inroads into the Malaysian political landscape.

The first decade was spent convincing the authorities that it subscribes to the evolutionary and not revolutionary school of thought which prescribes utilising the ballot instead of the bullet.

The second decade, after its registration was greenlit, had been dedicated to the formidable endeavour of winning hearts and minds.

Though not lacking in commitment or resolve as well as functioning as an indefatigable defender of the working class, its alternative vision for the nation has failed to garner the desired traction. PSM was decimated in the 2018 general election.

Its greatest electoral achievement to date was when its current chairperson Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj sank the titanic erstwhile MIC president S Samy Vellu in the latter's stronghold of Sungai Siput in the 2008 polls.

However, Jeyakumar, who retained the seat five years later, fell to Pakatan Harapan's Kesavan Subramaniam in the 2018 watershed election, which witnessed the dismantling of the BN regime.

Two days later, PSM deputy chairperson S Arutchelvan penned an article on the dismal performance which addressed the party's errors and shortcomings.

However, he added that PSM had put forward a dignified and brave campaign.

“We were the only party with candidates declaring their assets and taking an anti-racism pledge. We also did not take the convenient shortcut in jumping on the Mahathir bandwagon,” he noted.

Within a short span of 22 months, the band broke up and the wagon crumbled. Then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was pilloried and relegated to his previous role of arch-villain.

PSM is now preparing to face another general election but it remains unclear if it would be invited and if so, agree to seek shelter under Harapan's so-called “big tent”.

Against this backdrop, Malaysiakini speaks to Jeyakumar regarding a hypothetical scenario – what if PSM becomes the government at some point? What would its first 100 days in office entail?

The unlikelihood of this happening anytime soon was not lost on PSM's office bearers themselves as seen in Arutchelvan's response to a text message more than a week ago informing him that the article would be published at a later date.

“No worries, we have some time before coming to power,” he replied, adding a smiling emoji for good measure.

On a serious note, Jeyakumar stressed that in order for PSM to remain committed to its election promises after winning power, it needs to craft a manifesto with the understanding that a better and more inclusive society cannot be built overnight.

“Malaysia is deeply integrated into the global economy and we are a part of many global chains. We cannot afford to disrupt economic activity by seeming anti-business.

“So we need to put forward a realistic manifesto that can be implemented. We also need to avoid creating excessively high expectations from our supporters as some changes might take years to attain,” he added.

PSM’s main long term goals, he surmised, are to ensure that a larger share of the wealth created in this country is enjoyed by the B40 and M40, to democratise Malaysian society, reduce ethnic tensions and build genuine inter-ethnic solidarity, reduce greenhouse gas and focus on sustainable development policies.

Based on these considerations, Jeyakumar outlined PSM's initiatives in the first 100 days as:

Steps toward more equitable wealth redistribution

  • Immediately enact legislation for a universal old-age pension scheme. This would be for all individuals above the age of 65 who are not receiving a government pension. These individuals would be paid a pension of RM500 per month. This is all the more necessary now given that the poorer half of working people have severely depleted their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings because of the heavy withdrawals made to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Ask all local councils to take over the management of low-cost flats that are not being maintained properly. (The minority able to manage themselves should be given the option of continuing to do so.) The federal and the state governments should supply the local councils with the budget to repair lifts, stairwell lights, bannisters and leaking roofs, etc. An independent committee comprising local councillors as well as elected representatives of these flats should meet up in each municipality to monitor how these funds are deployed and guard against misuse and wastage of these funds.

  • Recognise that low income and under-employment plague the rural community. This is linked to low and unstable commodity prices as well as to the huge number of undocumented foreign workers who depress wages and reduce employment opportunities. A high-level committee has to be set up to propose specific measures within six months to address these issues.

  • Implement a comprehensive policy on labour migration. Place migration under the Human Resources Ministry and not under the Home Ministry as well as ensure better and proper utilisation of the migrant workforce. Currently, the importation of migrant labour is over-influenced by the profit motives of the politically connected companies given the permits to import labour, and not the manpower needs of the country.

  • Address youth unemployment and under-employment. Initiate a scheme which offers green jobs to youth – in reforestation, rehabilitation of rivers, sustainable waste management, wider deployment of solar panels to homes and businesses. Career opportunities should also be created for youths interested in food farming. Land and finance should be made available to them.

  • Initiate the building of People’s Housing Programme (PPR) houses in all big and small towns as the cost of accommodation is spiralling out of control. This should be by a non-profit agency and the units should be rented out to low-income families at reasonable rates.

  • Initiate steps to immediately gazette 400ha (1,000 acres) of land around every Orang Asli village as community land that is under the control of the community. This is an interim step and more detailed discussions should be held over how much more land that particular village should get, depending on its history and population.

  • A special committee to review all policies and laws relating to disabled persons - the People With Disability Act and the Mental Health Act in particular. Set up a separate department to focus specifically on issues related to people with disabilities.

  • The government will hold meetings with all its government-linked companies (GLCs) to discuss how the GLCs can play a role in uplifting the economy of the people and have some clear social objectives in its mission. This is with a view to eventually collectivise GLC profits to be used for social development.

  • Form a commission to propose strategies to augment government revenue. The government needs funds to implement social protection schemes, address climate change and switch to renewable energy and public transport etc. Potential taxes include taxes on windfall, wealth, inheritance and capital gains. However, the risk of capital flight has to be taken seriously – we live in a globalised world with very lax financial regulations. Other possibilities such as applied permits to buy new cars, a carbon tax on industry and debt monetisation must be seriously debated.

Democratisation of society

  • Implement local council elections in a few municipalities as a test run. We would start with the election for two-thirds of the councillors by the public. This leaves the state authority the space to nominate the remaining eight councillors, and they can use this power to correct the gender, ethnic and special interest (eg people with disabilities, youth) balance if required. The existing laws permit this. Based on the experience of this experiment, we would then have town hall discussions across the country to fine-tune the process before implementing it in more municipalities.

  • Start a public participation process and nationwide consultations to discuss amendments to the Federal Constitution that will enhance democratic space and decentralise some of the powers of the prime minister as well as the menteris besar.

  • There have been suggestions that the nomination of heads of agencies that play a check and balance role in our system of government should not be exclusively determined by the PM – the chief justice, Bank Negara governor, Election Commission commissioners, MACC chief, Suhakam commissioners, etc.

  • Similarly, there have been calls that at the state level, there should be a committee to monitor how the power to alienate state land and give out logging concessions is being used. Some quarters suggest that this monitoring committee should have veto power which can only be overridden by a motion in the state assembly. At present, the menteri besar and a few key senior officials have unlimited power over state lands and forests.

  • All these ideas should be put up for discussion before they are implemented through amendments to legislation or the Constitution.

  • The PSM government will build a database on all organisations operating at the grassroots level and build a network so that aid and government programmes can be channelled effectively without wastage to all deserving communities such as during floods and pandemics etc.

  • Revamp the system of village head (tok batin) selection in Orang Asli communities so that the sole power to determine the tok batin will reside with the kampung community and the Orang Asli Development Department does not have veto power. The monthly stipend must be paid to whoever the community chooses as tok batin.

  • Establish a commission to monitor the implementation of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 in order to ensure that the rights of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with Malaya are implemented and do not just remain empty promises.

  • All the committees and commissions set up to review the various issues mentioned in this set of intentions should present their finding to Parliament within a specified timeframe and their findings should be made known to society, not shrouded in secrecy.

Build genuine inter-ethnic solidarity

  • The proper handling of the issues identified in the first six points under “equitable wealth distribution” above will go a long way toward enhancing inter-ethnic solidarity.

  • Affirm that the government is committed to addressing the predominance of certain ethnic groups in certain poorer sectors of the economy, understand that appropriate affirmative action is still required to address the over or under-representation of certain ethnic groups in certain sectors and will closely monitor as well as ensure that projects and funds meant to correct ethnic imbalances in the economy are not hijacked by the elite through rentier activity.

  • Encourage NGOs to promote inter-ethnic dialogue through organising cultural and social events.

Sustainable development

  • Declare a climate emergency and a moratorium on logging activities. Existing logging concessions need to be reviewed and cancelled or reduced as required. The 53 percent of land still gazetted as “forest” should be maintained as such and re-forested in the areas it has been logged.

  • A committee should be set up to suggest decisive steps and deadlines to phase out coal and expand renewable energy. An action plan should be drawn up within four months. Extensive townhall consultations should then be started as there may be lifestyle changes and some increase in costs to the public. There needs to be a general buy-in.

  • The national food security policy needs to be urgently reviewed by a special committee. Specifically, food production activities should not be obstructed or destroyed by “development projects” in the form of housing projects, industrial development or sand mining and land reclamation.

  • This committee should also recommend whether a portion of the land now used for oil palm production should be diverted to food production. (At present 80 percent of all land used for agriculture in Malaysia is utilised for commodity production – oil palm, rubber, etc)