Malaysia: Fuel heats governmental crisis (+ videos)

June 21, 2008 -- The National Front (BN) government led by PM Abdullah Badawi has been shaky since the March general election that returned a much stronger parliamentary opposition — now largely united in a new People’s Front (Pakatan Rakyat).

However, the BN’s recent decision to lift petrol prices by 41% (and diesel by 63%) has galvanised a new round of mass protests. Thousands took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur after prayers at the mosque on June 13 demanding that prices be lowered and a much larger rally is being planned for July 6.

Link’s Peter Boyle spoke on June 19 with S.Arutchelvan, the secretary-general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), about the recent developments. After a 10-year battle for registration as a legal party, the PSM has just been promised recognition by the embattled government. This follows the PSM winning two seats in the March elections.

June 13 fuel hike protests

The opposition People’s Front says it is building a million-strong march against the recent fuel price hike for July 6. That would make it the biggest demonstration ever in Malaysia.

If we can get 1 million in the streets of Kuala Lumpur then I believe we are ready to take over the government. I think 1 million is not realistic, at this stage, for a country with a population of around 25 million. I think if we can get 100,000 people, that would be a big achievement.

How is the July 6 demonstration being built?

Currently there are many small demonstrations, many road shows and talks going on where in all these events, the date July 5 is being repeated. The police are warning the public not to participate. We look at this as additional publicity for the event.

How is the fuel price hike affecting people?

This is the talk in every corner, every coffee shop. People have been grumbling. The government has gone on a huge propaganda campaign in the mainstream media to justify their decision, but people are not buying their argument. Prices of all goods have gone up. The government has failed to control these prices and even traders are not listening to the government any more.

What is the People’s Front position on the current fuel and food price hikes?

They charge that the government is weak and not able to handle the crisis. They feel that as Malaysia is a petroleum-producer (with the state-owned oil company, Petronas, with a monopoly) the people should not be burdened by a reduction in the fuel subsidy. They compare Malaysia with other oil producing nations that still have lower fuel prices.

They charge that there is mismanagement and wastage. They also say that the federal government is punishing the people for giving the opposition a huge mandate in the last election.

What is the PSM’s position on the fuel and food price rises?

The fuel hike is a declaration of war against the people. Only when the people own their oil, can it be put to good use. Venezuela is a country which charges only 16 sen per litre and the revenue for oil is used by the Venezuelan state to give free education and health care, besides helping poor neighbouring nations.

This was only possible when a revolutionary government under the leadership of Hugo Chavez with people power took over the petrol company and brought it under government control. Petronas is nationalised but not under the control of the people.

It is outrageous that the government hiked the fuel price when Petronas reported US$13.3 billion profit in the 12 months to March 2007 and US$12.9 billion in the following six months to September 2007.

The government’s promise to give rebates to consumers is a further insult to our intelligence. The PM said further that the money saved will be used to offset the world food crisis. This was the same promise given when the government came out with the previous fuel hike. Then, we were taken for a ride and told the money will be used to improve the public transportation system.

PSM supports any move to mobilise people power to remedy this situation. We call upon all political parties and people’s movements to rise up to demand and reclaim what is ours. Waiting in queues is not going to bring about political change.

What solution is the People’s Front demanding? Do all the opposition parties have the same position?

The Parti Islam (PAS) and the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) argue that oil prices can be brought down because of the huge Petronas profits. They say they have a mechanism to handle this, but it has yet to be made public. The Democratic Action Party (DAP) position is more that the fuel hike is too big and maybe it should have been done in stages.

Has the PSM joined the People’s Front?

No, we will work on a minimum program and support the welfare state manifesto put forward by the PAS and the PKR for the election.

We plan to push for the implementation of this manifesto, which includes the demands: a decent minimum wage; free health and education; decent homes for everyone; and abolish draconian laws, such as the notorious Internal Security Act.

Have there been defections of government MPs to the People’s Front? Is the BN government on the verge of falling?

There are not yet any defections, but there is speculation. PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim and his party has been continuously making statements that they have the numbers to form an alternative government, and a small opposition party is threatening to move a motion of no-confidence in parliament next week.

Recently the PSM’s first federal MP set up a People’s Consultative Council in his electorate. Can you explain the role of this new institution and the response?

Basically this is the de-facto local government because elected local governments have been suspended since 1964. The PSM builds people’s committees in every housing estate, village and community, workplace etc. All the representatives attend a meeting where they decide what kind of development they want and how to manage it.

The local newspapers have hailed this as the first of its kind. The committee members who attend the meetings themselves are surprised and some shocked when we ask them how to run the consituency or what question to ask in parliament. But once they start participating, then everything looks very fine to them.

From Green Left Weekly issue #756 25 June 2008.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 06/25/2008 - 10:25


PSM allowed to register as political party

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) has finally obtained approval from the Home Ministry to register as a political party after a 10-year battle which included a protracted law suit against the government.

S. Arutchelvan said the party’s lawyers today asked the Federal Court for an adjournment of the case where PSM is appealing against the Court of Appeal’s decision to reject its application to register as a political party.

The Federal Court has subsequently decided to put off the case pending the registration of the party.

arutchelvan psm interview 010208 concernArutchelvan told Malaysiakini that he had earlier sent a May 28 memorandum by email to Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar seeking his intervention in the case.

Syed Hamid replied the following week, also by email, saying that the ministry would now support the registration of PSM, something which the government has rejected for almost a decade.

“On June 4, I received an email from (Syed Hamid) saying ‘we will allow the registration (of the party) to proceed’,” said Arutchelvan regarding the government’s surprising about-turn on the issue.

Arutchelvan said he spoke to Deputy Registrar of Societies Marzuki Zainuddin and Syed Hamid’s aide Intan Yusniazura, who confirmed that the email from the minister was authentic [see emails below].

“On the same day, we send an email to the minister from PSM to ask how to proceed on (the matter).”

Syed Hamid told the PSM leader to wait for an official letter from the ministry.

This morning, Arutchelvan was informed to collect a letter from the ministry. The letter requested the party to submit a fresh application for registration.

“PSM agreed to re-apply as we believe this is just a formality to get PSM registered as the minister had previously committed in the email to register the party…,” said Arutchelvan.

“We would request the party to be registered within a month after we submit our application. If PSM is still denied registration, then we would go back to the Federal Court to rule on the issue.”

PSM will not withdraw case, for now

According to Arutchelvan, senior federal counsel Mary Lim who is representing the government in the legal battle, has today suggested to PSM to drop the case following the latest development.

“Lim said the case is now academic,” he said.

However, PSM has told the Federal Court that it had no intention of withdrawing the case until it receives a ‘black-and-white approval’ of its legal status from the Home Ministry.

PSM’s lawyers, Tommy Thomas and Ragunath Kesavan, have instead requested the court for an adjournment in today’s hearing pending a formal approval from the government.

“(This is to ensure that) after we have submitted the formal letter and if we get rejected (again), then we can still go back to the court,” explained Arutchelvan.

Regarding the party’s memorandum to Syed Hamid, the PSM leader said he had urged the ministry to approve the party’s application in view of the government’s recent pledges for reforms.

“If they were ready to reform everything, then PSM should be allowed to be registered,” he said.

Also present at the court hearing today was PSM chairperson Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim, who is assemblyperson for Kota Damansara (Selangor) and central committee member Dr D Jeyakumar, the member of parliament for Sungai Siput (Perak).

Long struggle for recognition

Since its application in April 1998, PSM and its supporters have been waging a long struggle for it to be registered and recognised as a political party.

Its application was rejected in September 1999 by then home minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is now prime minister.

Soon after, PSM filed a law suit - the first time a political party has gone to the courts to challenge the government’s decision in rejecting its registration.

In a judgment on Jan 13, 2003, the Kuala Lumpur High Court agreed with the government’s argument that the socialist party posed a national security threat and rejected PSM’s application for a judicial review.

Three years later, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision but ruled that the party was not a national security threat, clearing one of the major hurdles in the lawsuit for PSM.

The appellate court nevertheless upheld another key argument - that Registrar of Society (ROS) requires the party to have representatives from at least seven states to be registered as a national party.

PSM, which failed to meet the requirements according to the ROS, has described this as “baseless”.

Unable to operate as a full-fledged political party, PSM leaders have contested in the past three general elections under the banners of two other opposition parties - DAP and PKR.

In the March 8 elections, the party won one state and one parliament seat.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 07/04/2008 - 15:07



Malaysia: Armed forces ready to intervene says police chief

New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, July 3: Cooperation between the police and armed forces is necessary to maintain public order and security in the country. With this in mind, the two security forces launched a joint safety exercise at the Police College in Cheras yesterday.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan said cooperation was crucial because political parties, non-governmental organisations and individuals were, of late, organising more illegal assemblies.
"It is crucial, and the right time, for the forces to organise and plan strategies to carry out duties in maintaining public order as outlined in the public order manual," he said.
The exercise, which began yesterday and ends on Monday, is to get planners to understand what it takes to coordinate efforts between the two forces should the need arise.
Musa said the joint exercise, whose focus is on the Klang Valley, especially Kuala Lumpur, Shah Alam and Petaling Jaya, was to show that public order problems could be tackled properly and efficiently by both forces.
Asked if this meant that the armed forces would be used to tackle illegal assemblies, he said this would only be so if absolutely necessary and an emergency had to be declared.
Tan Sri Musa Hassan (right) and Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal after the launching of joint safety exerciseArmed Forces chief General Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal said the exercise was the first of two phases. In this phase, discussions would be held to work out certain procedures.
The second phase involved actual deployment of forces. Legal officers of both forces would advise on the legal aspects of tackling any crisis.
"Such activities (the exercise) have to be carried out so that a standard operating procedure can be worked out. Without such exercises, there will be no coordination when a real threat arises," he said.

The joint military-police exercise was announced as a mass opposition rally against the recent 41% petrol/67% diesel fuel hikes was being built for this Sunday (July 6), and opposition Pakatan Rakyat leader Anwar Ibrahim released evidence implicating the deputy prime minister in an alleged murder cover-up.
The executive longstanding Malaysian human rights organisation Aliran issued the following statement on July 3:
"Inspector General of Police Musa Hassan's suggestion yesterday that the military could be asked to help the police in maintaining law and order in the country is disturbing.
"For one thing, Aliran wonders whether the security of the nation now has become unstable to the point that it warrants military intervention. Or is this merely a tactical move to scare ordinary Malaysians from exercising their right to express their stand in public through, for instance, peaceful demonstrations on the street?
"Civilian matters should be handled by the police force in the most professional way possible because as the experience of neighbouring countries has shown, once out of the military barracks, the army may find it difficult to return.
"The IGP's remarks may only add fuel to the speculation that given the twists of events in the political sphere, the country may be put under emergency rule."
People's Front leaders on the night of July 3 to discuss the dangerous and rapidly shifting political situation in the country.
Sources: NST, Star, Aliran

Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific (ASAP), formerly ASIET (Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor), is a network of solidarity activists campaigning for democratic rights, self-determination and other justice struggles in the Asia Pacific region.
ASAP's People's Power Fighting Fund runs appeals for material support for various democratic struggles in the region. To donate to this fund and to help maintain this website, you can deposit directly into the Commonwealth Bank Australia BSB 062026 Account number 1006 0743. Thank-you. Your help is appreciated.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Mon, 07/07/2008 - 21:24


Malaysia: 40,000 defy police warnings to stay away from rally against fuel price hike

According to Parti Sosialis Malaysia secretary general S.Arutchelvan, despite police warnings to stay away from what was branded an "illegal" rally, the crowd built up to 40,000 at the July 6 all-day rally against the fuel price hike. There were around 10,000 in the morning but up to 40,000 at night. However, he added that many people stayed away because the venue had been shifted to a sports stadium.
When he addressed the rally, Pakatan Rakyat (People's Front) leader Anwar Ibrahim challenged the Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Badawi to a debate on fuel prices. He said that the fuel price hike had triggered a crisis of confidence in the Barisan Nasional government.
The crowd chanted: "Reformasi! Reformasi!"; "Long live the people!"; "Fuel prices, down! down!" and "BN, down! down!":
There was no trouble with police on the day.

Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific (ASAP), formerly ASIET (Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor), is a network of solidarity activists campaigning for democratic rights, self-determination and other justice struggles in the Asia Pacific region.
ASAP's People's Power Fighting Fund runs appeals for material support for various democratic struggles in the region. To donate to this fund and to help maintain this website, you can deposit directly into the Commonwealth Bank Australia BSB 062026 Account number 1006 0743. Thank-you. Your help is appreciated.