Malaysian socialists' logo deemed ‘violent’, PSM warns of return to Mahathir-style repression

[M. Sarawathy, a representative of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, will be attending the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, Australia, April 10-12, 2009. For more information, or to book tickets, visit]

March 19, 2009 -- Malaysiakini -- Poor PSM (Parti Sosialis Malaysia, Malaysian Socialist Party)! Obstacles after obstacles the Parti Socialis Malaysia has had to face before it could be officially recognised as a political party.

The latest hitch is expected to make its recognition more elusive -- the authorities are now saying that the party’s logo, a white-coloured clenched fist against a red backdrop, has “connotations of violence” and is “morally unsuitable”.

This issue of a ``violent logo'' has never been brought up in the PSM's decade-long tussle for registraion with Registrar of Societies (ROS). Prior to this, the PSM was also denied registration from 1998 to 2008 as it was regarded as a threat to ``national security''.

On March 19, PSM leaders submitted a memorandum to Election Commission (EC) chairperson Abdul Aziz bin Mohd Yusof to appeal for registration. According to the memorandum, the party was finally approved by the Home Ministry on August 19, 2008, and registered by the ROS in accordance with the Societies Act 1966.

On September 18, 2008, PSM leaders submitted copies of their registration certificate, party constitution, organisation chart and coloured party logo as required by the EC in order to register as a political party. When the party did not receive a response from the EC, the documents were re-sent.

On January 3, 2009, the party was informed that its registration was still being processed by the Home Ministry. On February 13, the EC announced that the registration has been rejected because its logo is "morally unsuitable" and "has connotations of violence".

The commission also stated that it has the discretion to approve or reject the registration of political parties according to the Election Act 1958.

EC’s role questioned

The PSM has since questioned the commission’s decision, noting that “the Home Ministry and ROS should be the main authorities in determining the legitimacy of political parties”.

“The role of the EC is purely administrative and it should not interfere with decisions that have been approved by the Home Ministry and ROS. Secondly, the reason given for PSM’s 10-year denial to registration by the Home Ministry was that the party posed a threat to national security.

“In the case of PSM versus the Home Ministry, the Court of Appeal had since held that the party did not pose any security threats to the country.

“However, the party logo was never brought up by the prosecution throughout the duration of its litigation.

“Thirdly, the party has never received any complaints from the public with regards to its ‘violent imagery’."

The memorandum also stated that if a fist could be interpreted as a symbol of aggression, so could a keris or a rocket. In addition, it stated that the fist was a popular symbol used by socialists and socialist organisations all over the world.

According to Wikipedia, "The raised fist may represent union, as ‘many weak fingers can come together to create a strong fist’, and is also used to express solidarity, generally with oppressed peoples. This symbolism may have sprung from usage by trade unions."

In addition, the PSM stated that because of the non-registration of the party, its members have not been able to contest in the up-coming elections.

The party viewed this situation as a form of status discrimination that infringed upon the democratic rights of the party as enshrined in the federal constitution.  

psm dr nasir hashim uncensored 010808 04Lastly, the memorandum noted, "If truly, the symbol of PSM is perceived to be immoral and violent, then the people of Malaysia will reject it through their votes.

``However, that decision should be made by the voters and not the Election Commission."

The PSM, led by Selangor state assemblyperson Dr Nasir Hashim (left), was founded in 1998 and is the only socialist party in Malaysia. The party also has a member in the national parliament in Dr D. Jeyakumar, who represents Sungai Siput. The two seats were won on PKR tickets in last year’s general election.

What is in a symbol? PSM heads to another long battle!

March 24, 2009 -- PSM -- It appears as if the Malaysian government made a mistake by giving the PSM a license in August last year and after realising this mistake, it went on to use the “independent” Election Commission (EC) to deny the PSM the use its symbol for the election. The decision by the EC to refer the PSM logo issue back to the Registrar of Societies (ROS), which had earlier given approval to the symbol tantamount to rejecting the PSM's right to stand for election.

The Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) will go into history as the party which took the most number of years to get registered as well as being the most scrutinised. The PSM's struggle has taken many fronts from letter writing to street demonstrations, from negotiations to court battles, and now back to the battleground.

Dr Nasir Hashim.

The PSM started to use the fist symbol in 1998 when the party first applied for registration. We have been using it openly since the first election we stood in under the Democratic Action Party (DAP) banner in 1999, as well as in all our publications, car stickers, flags and T-shirts. The PSM chose the logo after looking at several symbols. The fist used currently is also used by many socialists all over the world. The party symbol has been very popular and has since been used by many groups as a symbol of struggle and people's power.

“Just let us move on.” This was the angry tone which Dr Nasir Hashim told deputy secretary Datuk Noordin Bin Che Ngah when submitting a memorandum to the ROS on March 19, 2009.

It is now six months since the PSM applied to be registered by the EC. One may think that since the PSM got its party registration, then it would be now smooth sailing. On September 18, 2008, PSM had submitted copies of its registration certificate, party constitution, organisation chart and party logo as required by the EC in order to register as a political party for the election. When the party did not receive any response from the EC, the documents were re-sent.

It was during this period that we got some dismal reason from one of the EC officials, who said that the reason cannot be revealed because it is deemed an official secret. A letter from the EC replying to our follow-up letter created more questions than answers. The EC letter said that the EC was awaiting approval from the ROS. This prompted the PSM to send a legal letter. The PSM’s lawyer Comrade Ragu Kesavan send a letter questioning the EC’s reasoning. Only then did the EC, in its letter on February 13, say that the EC had rejected the PSM logo because it is “morally unsuitable” and “has connotations of violence”. The commission also stated that it has the discretion to approve or reject the registration of political parties according to the Election Act 1958.

The EC's reasons for rejection of the PSM’s logo has created much amusement in the blogs. Many made the comparison with the “keris” (dagger) and the fist. The PSM in its memorandum also raised the issue of the keris as well as of the rocket. In today’s world, rockets are seen as offensive weapons used by the terrorists.

Besides the above blatant discrimination, there are other serious issues to be considered. The Home Ministry (HM) and the ROS are the main authorities in determining the legitimacy of political parties and they have approved the PSM registration, including the PSM symbol. Hence it is very unfair for the EC to refer this back to the ROS.

Besides that, in the ten years the Home Ministry had fought against giving the PSM its registration, it had never used the logo as a reason. Today it seems there is yet another reason to deny the PSM’s political future.

Finally, PSM has always stated that the fate of the PSM must be determined by the Malaysian people and not the EC. If the PSM logo is perceived to be ``immoral'' and ``violent'', then the people of Malaysia will reject it through their votes. However, that decision should be made by the voters and not the Election Commission.

Malaysian socialists warn of return to Mahathir-style repression

By Peter Boyle

March 28, 2009 -- “As present deputy PM Najib Razak plans to takeover the prime ministership on April 2, there seems to be a pattern of growing repression”, warned Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) secretary general S. Arutchelvan.

“The dark ages of [former PM] Mahathir are returning with incidents such as the one-year suspension from parliament of opposition MP Gobind Singh Deo, the three-month ban of two popular opposition newspapers, recent police attacks on opposition public assemblies, the referring of sodomy charges against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to the High Court [and] the setting up of a new ‘anti-corruption agency’ to investigate opposition leaders.”

Another example, S. Arutchelvan warned, was the rejection of the PSM’s party symbol — a red clenched fist.

On March 23, riot police used a water cannon and tear gas to attack a 5000-strong public meeting of opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR) supporters in Sungei Patani.

PSM deputy chairperson M. Saraswathy told Green Left Weekly that the increasingly unpopular National Front (BN) government were “resorting to more dirty, more lawless and more devious means to hold onto power at any cost”.

“The March 2008 political tsunami that swept the PR [the People’s Front opposition coalition] into power in five states was the result of an unprecedented level of disenchantment with the BN’s 50-year rule.

“The neoliberal policies of the government made the lives of the majority miserable. All the welfare state projects were rolled back one by one, resulting in rising prices of basic services while real wages dropped.

“Now the current economic crisis is pushing people into greater hardship and further angering them”, Saraswathy told GLW. “People have little faith that the federal government’s hefty stimulus packages will benefit them.”

In February, the BN regained controlled of one of five state governments won by opposition parties in the 2008 elections through dirty tactics.

“The PR had a narrow three-seat majority in the state assembly but the BN wrested away three seats from the PR by using back door tactics”, Saraswathy explained. ``They bought over two PKR state assembly members who were facing corruption charges, and went on to pay a hefty sum of money to a [Democratic Action Party] state assemblywoman who was the deputy speaker. The BN used the Perak monarchy to aid and abet in their unlawful power grab. The Perak Sultan, who has large vested financial interests, removed the opposition government.”

Saraswathy said that the PSM continued to “put forward socialist arguments, analysis, perspectives and proposals, making our one MP stand apart from the rest”.

These include “a retrenchment fund, land for farming, food stamps, freezing of housing loan repayments”, he said.  “A number of these demands were carried to the public in a nation-wide bicycle campaign that made history. The PSM’s cyclists, who faced police harassment as they made their way around the country, finally entered parliament and handed over a memorandum.

“This has never happened before, and was only made possible because of our MP. It succeeded in highlighting the demands of the campaign to a large number of people.''

“We believe change comes through people’s power”, Saraswathy said. “We still have a long way to go in the struggle. But our election victories have had a great impact on the party’s development. Having a vocal state assembly member in Selangor and a federal parliamentarian have been very good propaganda platforms for the party and enabled us to demonstrate to people what socialists stand for.

“Party policies and actions in PSM constituencies, such as yearly asset declarations, formation of People’s Consultative Councils at the constituency level, and the practice of a different culture of politics — all this has had great appeal and has contributed to the likelihood of PSM becoming a third force on the Malaysian political scene.”

[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly issue #789, April 1, 2009.]