Socialist Party of Malaysia: The left in coalition politics (+ interview with PSM MP)

Jeyakumar (`Kumar') Devaraj (third from right) with PSM supporters.

By Jeyakumar Devaraj

November 8, 2008 -- Ever since the First International, building and working within coalitions with other groups has been one of the strategies used by the left to attempt to advance its political agenda. This practice has continued up until the present.

However the strategy of working in coalitions with other groups has, fairly often, led to controversy, disagreements and even acrimonious splits, both of the coalitions as well as within the left parties involved themselves.

Why does this happen? Is the strategy of coalition work worth the effort and trouble? What are the benefits of coalition building? What are measures a socialist party can take to avoid some of the negative consequences of coalition political work?

I intend to use the experience of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (Parti Sosialis Malaysia—PSM) as a basis for an analysis of these questions, although the specificities of the situation in other countries might be quite different from that of ours in Malaysia.

The benefits derived from coalition work

The PSM has been involved in coalition work ever since we formed the party. In fact, it was a coalition of groups working with plantation workers and urban pioneers that came together to form the PSM in 1996. While working to set up the PSM we continued with the coalition work to further the cause of the plantation workers and urban pioneers. This effort was widened in 2002 with the formation of the Network of Oppressed Peoples (JERIT), which widened the sectors being addressed to include factory workers, smallholders and youth.

This networking was and is an important component of our work with marginalised groups facing imminent eviction, for networking helps in spotlighting the injustice of the situation, and the complicity or worse of the government agencies involved, and helps generate public and media pressure that together with dogged resistance of the marginalised community to hold on to their land and/or houses has led to a number of small victories at the level of these communities. These small victories are important to the development of our movement – it is good for people to see that when people get together and act collectively, they can uphold their rights.

In 2004, the PSM took its praxis to a different level. We played a leading role in forming the Coalition Against the Privatisation of Health Care which managed to attract the support of 82 groups – opposition political parties, unions, NGOs, consumer groups and others. The PSM also played an important leadership role within the Coalition Protesting the US-Malaysia FTA, the Coalition to Prevent Privatisation of the Water Supply, the anti-Internal Security Act campaign, the campaign against the proposed goods and services tax and Protes – the anti-oil-price hike coalition. The PSM’s active involvement in all these coalitions was due to a decision taken at the 2003 party congress that the PSM should attempt to widen its appeal to larger sections of workers, small farmers and young people. We didn’t want to create the impression of a party that only handled evictions and retrenchments.

In the campaigns against privatisation and neoliberal trade agreements, working within a coalition was very useful to us. In many instances, the analysis and campaign material (pamphlets, posters and articles) were produced by the PSM. However the coalition gave us a wide network through which we could get our analysis to the people, as well as to the activists of the other groups within the coalition. For example, the Coalition Against the Privatisation of Health Care could pamphlet 20 government hospitals throughout the country on the same morning because of the network created by the coalition. Such activities helped raise the profile of the PSM and establish the relevance of our analysis. The PSM was also able to impress upon the coalition partners that we are serious, that we could meet our targets, and that our activists are disciplined and unafraid of the police. Such impressions are important for a new left party trying to introduce itself into the national political landscape.

The PSM came into being in the mid 1990s -- a particularly bad time for the left worldwide. The left had been thoroughly defeated, with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc as one of the most obvious manifestations. Left parties had thrown in the towel and either dissolved themselves or attempted to re-brand themselves. In Malaysia, where socialism had become a bad word associated with violence, authoritarianism and atheism, the last socialist party, the Malaysian Peoples Socialist Party (PSRM) , dropped the term socialist from its name and constitution. Against this backdrop, very few thought that the PSM had any chance of surviving let alone growing.

However today, several of the leaders of the parties comprising the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (or People’s Alliance – a coalition that includes the People's Justice Party [Parti Keadilan Rakyat – PKR], the Democratic Action Party [DAP] and the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia[Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party – PAS]) claim to be socialist. One of the Pakatan Rakyatcomponent parties played the ``Internationale’’ at its annual conference earlier this year. Several young people have set the ``Internationale’’ as the ring tone for their cell phones. This rehabilitation of the left is of course due to a multitude of factors, including the arrogance of US imperialism, the mess that neoliberal capitalism is making of the world, the efforts of the veterans of the Malaysian left struggle in the 1950s onwards to re-tell their side of the story through numerous publications, and the news from Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

But the impact of a small unregistered party standing with oppressed communities and actually pulling off small local victories, coordinating nation-wide campaigns against privatisation despite getting arrested and tear-gassed time and again must have also played a part in the rehabilitation of the left in at least a portion of the population.

Coalition politics post-2008 election

The March 2008 elections was a watershed event that has brought about a new political environment. The PSM now has two elected members of parliament, a state assembly member in the Pakatan Rakyat -controlled state of Selangor, and a federal member of parliament in the Pakatan Rakyat -controlled state of Perak. While not a member of the newly formalised Pakatan Rakyat coalition, the PSM is now associated with the state governments in two states.

How have we defined that relationship?

A separate identity: We had no difficulty in deciding to uphold our separate identity, though there were many friends and supporters who wanted us to merge with one of the component parties within the Pakatan Rakyat . Our decision to maintain our separate identity derives from our analysis of the Pakatan Rakyat as at best a reformist formation that will not challenge private ownership of the means of production within the country or corporate-led globalisation and unequal terms of trade internationally.

Our analysis is that the pledges of the Pakatan Rakyat governments to look after welfare of the population will soon run up against the anti-labour requirements of its neoliberal macro-economic policies. Most Pakatan Rakyat leaders appear to accept without question the “need” to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country. A senior Pakatan Rakyat leader proposed that corporate tax be reduced from its current 25% to 17% as a measure to boost the flagging economy. He didn’t seem to be aware that such a move would necessitate the much more regressive goods and services tax. Competing for FDI means that we continue “the race to the bottom” – but most Pakatan Rakyat leaders seem quite blissfully unaware of this!

However – and this for us this is an important factor to take into our calculations – at present many Malaysians have high hopes on the Pakatan Rakyat for this is the first time in five decades that the Barisan Nasional stranglehold on Malaysian politics has been broken.This is definitely not the time for strident attacks on Pakatan Rakyat , for in the unfolding struggle for federal power between the massively corrupt and chauvinistic Barisan Nasional and the yet unsullied Pakatan Rakyat , the majority of Malaysians are rooting for Pakatan Rakyat .

[The Barisan Nasional or National Front is the ruling coalition, made up of Malaysia’s three largest race-based parties — the dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).]

Support for a minimum program: The Pakatan Rakyat has promised
  • a clean and transparent government, where corruption which has reached epidemic proportions under the Barisan Nasional will be brought under control;
  • the abrogation of ethnic-based quotas. Affirmative action to be defined by socioeconomic need and not ethnicity.
  • The creation of a welfare state where the needs of the poorest and the marginalised will be met.

All of these are in line with the principles of the PSM, and we have announced our readiness to help implement these. We want the Pakatan Rakyat to deliver on these promises

The PSM has already proposed to the Pakatan Rakyat state governments that they:

i)Abrogate the granting of land that has been tilled for decades by small farmers to developers and companies by the Barisan Nasional government. We are arguing that giving the land without considering the plight of the farmers who have been there for three generations, even if technically “legal”, is unethical, and on that ground, the Pakatan Rakyatgovernment should use its powers of land acquisition and grant the small farmers the right to continue their farming.

ii) Use the Land Acquisition Act to resolve the problem of retrenched estate workers who have been fighting for years for alternative housing. We have asked the state governments to take a few acres of estate land to be distributed as housing lots to these workers.

iii) Cease the promotion of health tourism as the accelerated development of the market for private medicine undermines the competency of the public hospitals.

The Pakatan Rakyatstate governments have not taken a position on these issues as yet, but we intend to follow up on them.

Criticism of anti-people positions or policies: The PSM has taken a position that we should give the Pakatan Rakyatsome room to implement its policies and not be overly critical of it. However if Pakatan Rakyatleaders espouse positions that attack ordinary people, we should speak up and do so firmly.

Such a situation arose recently when a DAP exco member in the state government of Perak stated that the government would not hesitate to evict a group of 12 urban pioneers from their riverside houses if they refused to move out on their own – the government is offering a paltry RM3000 and the option of renting a flat unit. The people concerned are asking for alternative housing lots.

The PSM central committee member who is helping to coordinate the urban pioneers’ coalition responded with a press statement forcefully criticising the exco member’s statement. This was disseminated through email, and other DAP elected representatives have responded to the PSM assuring that there will not be any forced evictions.

The dialetics of `success’

As Marxists we would be grossly negligent if we do not anticipate the developments within our movement that might be created by the changes in the political scenario. (Many of our friends, especially from the Trotskyist tradition, consider the PSM as weak on ideology. But one doesn’t have to be erudite in Marxist literature to understand, and more importantly, apply basic Marxist tenets as a guide to one’s praxis!)

Coalition politics might create opportunities and situations which might help us in the short run. However, we must be acutely cognisant of the fact that our current “successes” will create forces and processes that can alter the nature of our organisation – and these changes might undermine our long-term objectives.

Let’s take the situation that the PSM is facing as an example. The political tsunami of March 2008 in Malaysia has brought two of our leaders into parliament/state assembly – the first time in 34 years that socialist candidates have actually won in an election in Malaysia. Of course, this has boosted the spirits of our members and supporters and we are getting far more press coverage than before. We also find our access to ordinary people has become so much easier.

But we have to remain vigilant that our “success” doesn’t undermine our long-term goal of putting forward a socialist option for the people of Malaysia. Among the problems that are already apparent are:

  1. The politics of hand-outs The Selangor state government has made available RM500,000 for each state assembly member from the Pakatan Rakyat . So our candidate has to dispense this huge sum of money to needy residents in his constituency. Giving out money isn’t that simple if one wants to ensure it reaches the really needy and that there is no misappropriation. All this takes time – one runs the dual danger of being caught up in the bureaucratic processes of handling and accounting for the money, and the perception of the public that you are some sort of perennial Santa Claus. Even worse is the possibility that we become hooked to this availability of funds to be dispensed to the constituents – to the extent that we find it difficult to operate without these funds. Barisan Nasional politicians are in this quandary. Their constituents expect a Santa Claus. We are creating the same expectation in our constituents. Dependency on funds will make us dependent on the coalition even when it lurches rightward!
  1. The politics of welfare Malaysian voters are used to bringing their problems to their elected representatives. Both elected PSM members are swamped with “welfare” cases. Though we both have full-timers who help us handle these cases, a lot of time is taken in handling these. Before we won, the portion of time taken up by welfare work was much less than now. We could spend more time on developing campaigns against neoliberal policies. Now we are bogged down with “servicing” the constituency and there is proportionately much less time spent in highlighting the deficiencies of the capitalist system.
  1. Over-emphasis on the elected member The public and the press promote the elected member over the team. We too are constrained by the need to promote the elected members – to show that they are delivering on their election promises; that they are good pro-people politicians, etc.The PSM had a fairly egalitarian structure where group work and consensus was important. Electoral success has tended to change the dynamics within the group because of the prominence given to the elected member. A good militant grassroots organiser may not be the best person to handle meetings and debates that come with positions in parliament, the state assembly and muncipal councils [the PSM also has some local council postions]. Someone with better academic qualifications could play such roles better, but that person’s politics may not be as radical as the grassroot person’s. The PSM’s “success” will tend to lead to the relative loss of prominence and influence of the militant grassroots organisers unless this tendency is recognised and countered.
  1. Dependency on funds for the party machinery Electoral success has led (for us) to a massive increase in funds available for our work. Our number of full-timers has jumped from one prior to the election to seven currently – and this not including the two elected members. The implications of this has to be considered. Would it tend to make us try to maintain good relations with a Pakatan Rakyatgovernment even if it is implementing neoliberal policies because we do not want to jeopardise our electoral opportunities at the next elections?

Looking at these influences it isn’t difficult to understand why coalition work often leads to divisions and splits within socialist parties which start out with a definite anti-capitalist orientation. Exposure to bourgeois parliamentary politics and especially the experience of executive power as a member of a coalition government will tend to dilute one’s anti-capitalist position. And this probably happens fastest and most thoroughly in the leaders of the party who participate in electoral politics.

Principles of engagement in coalition politics?

If there are so many difficulties and dangers inherent in coalition politics involving non-socialist parties why even consider taking part in such endeavours?

The PSM did consider not participating in the electoral process. But most Malaysians take elections seriously. There is a tremendous mobilisation of the public during the few weeks prior to elections and for a time afterwards. We decided that we need to participate and use the carnival-like atmosphere to popularise our symbol and highlight our analyses. Not participating might keep us “pure” but also might render us irrelevant in the eyes of the public.

Participating and losing is alright the first time around. Or even the second time. But a party cannot keep on losing in every election it participates in. That would make us seem ineffectual and a bit of a joke! But winning and being associated with the ruling government, even at state level, is quite a different ball game.

I think we have to take the dangers of flirting with bourgeois politics very seriously. It should be considered a “poisoned chalice” and handled with utmost care! I now intend to intend to generalise from our limited experience and put forward a set of principles of engagement in coalition-electoral politics for us to consider.

1. Ideological clarity is of paramount importance.

  • We need to be clear with regards to the political ideology of our coalition partners. Do the coalition partners accept the need to eradicate the private ownership of the means of production? This is a crucial issue. If they do not, then they will only go as far as reform, and when the chips are down, they will take steps to protect capitalism.
  • We also need to be clear where we draw the line. Can we go along with policies of a neoliberal nature? These will seriously undermine our credibility and support. What the people need now the world over is a party that will stand up fearlessly to any further neoliberal-type assaults on their income, jobs, amenities and pensions. Providing a rallying point for this defensive struggle of the people will win us much more genuine support than staying on in coalition governments in the hope we can lessen some of the more negative effects of their pro-capitalist policies!
  • We need to clearly define our priorities. I would argue that presenting a clear socialist critique – that the root problem is private ownership of capital and the production for profit – should always remain the top priority.

2. It is crucial that the culture of consultation and democratic decision making within the party is preserved and strengthened. This again relates to the first principle of ideological clarity. There may develop situations where there are difficult political choices to be made. An example would be the coalition we are in has decided to implement certain neoliberal policies that are against the interests of ordinary people. But our withdrawal of support will lead to the collapse of the coalition and the grouping waiting in the wings to take over is worse.

Comrade Kumar's distinctive `rust bucket': no perks for the PSM MP

In a situation such as this it would be healthy for the party to conduct in-depth discussions at branch and as well at national levels to arrive at a consensus of how to deal with the situation. The discussion can be widened to include our supporters – a form of a referendum, so that the decision is well understood by the rank and file as well as the supporters.

3. For the above two processes to take place, we must ensure that our representatives who we pushed into parliament, legislative assemblies and local government councils do not become too comfortable with their new positions and prestige, access to government executive power and financial privileges. Otherwise, these representatives, who would also be among our party’s natural leaders, might become a force of conservatism within our ranks and lead to the party staying on in a coalition that has begun implementing neoliberal policies.

There are several steps that one should take to ensure that our elected representatives do not get turned-over by the system that we have thrust them into.

  • There should be financial accounting. The elected representatives must only keep a small portion of the handsome income that they are rewarded with by the system. This should be clearly defined before candidature.
  • Decision making must be consensual – especially on issues involving party strategy. Of course we can leave the issues pertaining to the “servicing” of the constituency more to the candidates who won, but the crucial issues of the relationship with the coalition must be discussed openly and democratically.
  • There should be active and conscious attempts to counter the tendency to portray the elected candidates as “cult” figures. Yes, we need to sell our party and our analysis to the people, but cultism creates too many negative and dangerous trends within our movement.
  • Perhaps a rotation of members to the elected posts should be practiced. No one member should be left in an elected post for too long. This would be bad for his/her socialist soul!
  • Other modes of political work that do not depend on our access to parliament or the state should continue and be actively developed. For, after all, we have to keep the option of going into attack mode against the coalition if it seriously embarks on a neoliberal trajectory!

Coalition politics does offer the left opportunities to spread its analysis and win over more supporters and members. But it is a double-edged sword which may actually result in the subversion of our aims and the destruction of our party.

Left parties involving themselves in coalition politics should be ever vigilant. Clear ideology, democratic decision making, avoidance of cultism and a spirit of sacrifice on the part of the elected representatives are all necessary to avoid the disasters that have befallen several of the left parties that have taken the electoral route and attempted coalition politics.

[Jeyakumar Devaraj is a central committee member of the Socialist Party of Malaysia. He defeated MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu in the March 2008 general election to become the MP for Sungai Siput in Malaysia’s national parliament. This talk was presented to the PSM’s Socialism Malaysia 2008 conference in Kajang on November 8, 2008.]

Malaysian socialist MP on the ‘dialectics of success’

By Lisa MacDonald

November 2008 -- The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), formed only in 1996, shocked Malaysia’s political establishment by winning two seats in the March 8 general elections. Nasir Hashim was elected to the Selangor state legislative assembly and Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj was elected to the national parliament. 

Jeyakumar told Green Left Weekly that the main aim of the PSM’s electoral campaigning is to “rehabilitate socialism” in Malaysia. “Malaysia has a very rich socialist history, but since the mid-1970s, the left has been very weak, the result of severe repression and the international situation.

“When the PSM came into existence, socialism was a bad word for many people. So the first thing the party wanted to do was show that socialism is still relevant and has solutions to people’s problems.”

“By standing socialist candidates, we could get national media attention for our ideas and activities — opportunities to capture people’s imaginations”, Jeyakumar explained.

For example, “Our candidates have always openly declared their assets. The other opposition parties talk about the need to do this, but don’t do it. By being the only party that has done this, we’ve captured ordinary people’s attention.”

In the 1999 elections, in which Jeyakumar stood for the PSM against a government minister, there was massive fraud. “The minister bussed in people to vote for him and we documented that with photographs”, he recounted.

The PSM took the case to court. “Our evidence was very strong but they managed to throw it out on a technicality. But it caught national headlines; here was a small party taking on a minister in court.

“Something like this highlights the fact that our small party has got the fighting spirit, discipline and cadre to take a stand against injustice. Local people said, ‘For the first time someone is standing up! Who are these guys?’

“A lot of the vote for the PSM was a vote against the corrupt establishment parties, but our work on the ground also played a very important role — the fact that for 10 years we’d been involved with the communities”, Jeyakumar said.

“Many of our leaders have been arrested time and again, for standing up against petrol hikes, the Internal Security Act, evictions. I have been arrested about seven times on various issues.

“We are seen as the people who will fight, not for themselves but for other people. Even though a small party, we are seen as principled and consistent.”

Commenting on what he called the “dialectics of success” — the contradictions facing a socialist party that has won seats in a capitalist parliament — Jeyakumar said: “It is a minefield. There’s a lot of potential, but you can end up pretty messed up.

“Winning positions in parliament has boosted the spirits of our members and supporters, we are getting far more media coverage and our access to ordinary people has become easier. But we have to remain vigilant that our ‘success’ does not undermine our long-term goal of putting forward a socialist option.”

For example, he explained, the Selangor state government has made $500,000 available to every MP to distribute to needy constituents. “It’s good to have money, but managing $500,000 every year takes up so much time that you don’t have much left to point out that the system is capitalist, that there’s oppression and so.

“It tends to shift your work into a very welfarist, Santa Claus mode, but you cannot just say, ‘I am a socialist, I don’t want your $500,000’. People know that the government has given you this money.”

All federal MPs are also supposed to receive $500,000 for distribution to the needy, but to date no opposition MP has been given a cent. In response, the PSM called a meeting of all its contacts in the local communities and developed a list of projects that should be funded by the government.

The projects included a Muslim community orphans service, an old people’s home run by a Chinese group, a service for people with disabilities and a Tamil family school. “We put these in a formal application to the government; they came from the people”, Jeyakumar said.

“But two months later the answer came back: ‘Your application cannot be considered.’ So now we have produced a leaflet in the three languages explaining what we asked for, the consultation process we used and the government’s response. The leaflet asks the community what they think we should do about it.

“So this has been made a political process, not a welfare process. And if we get the money after fighting for it, it has a different meaning for people.

“We are trying to form a ‘people’s consultative council’. We call local leaders together, we sit with the people and discuss with them.

“We reject the deference given everywhere to MPs. We tell them that we don’t have the answers; we can help coordinate some things because we have resources, but they need to tell us the answers.

“This is all unchartered territory for us; what we have done so far is based on our experiences. But none of the opposition parties have done anything like it and this makes us stand out. People see us doing things this way and some decide to join the party.”

The PSM is also very conscious of rejecting the personal material advantages that come with elected office. “Now, as an MP, I can buy a house and a new car. There’s a lot of money available.

“By taking the position that we will not buy a new car unless our old car breaks down, we have made local people question things. It is a chance to show that socialists do not become MPs to get more money for themselves.

“We have to be very, very careful that we do not get sucked into and tied to the system. A lot of left parties, once they have got into the system, have split.

“If an elected representative gets too used to the high income, the power and the prestige, then at the next election they will be keen to stand again, and keen that the party doesn’t take any stands that might jeopardise their chances of re-election.

“Elected members can become a force for conservatism in the party, and that can destroy the party. So it is important that Nasir and myself, as the first PSM members to be elected to parliament, help ensure that the party has very strict rules to keep MPs principled and accountable to the party.”

[From Green Left Weekly issue #777, December 3, 2008.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 12/03/2008 - 15:26


According to PSM’s Nasir, the implementation of the NEP which focused on one race soon gave currency to the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric. But he says ketuanan Melayu is just a red herring. “Name me one Malay who is a pure Malay. There is virtually none - all Malays are mixed-blood to some degree.”

By Shanon Shah, The Nut Graph

“IF you live in Malaysia, you cannot have ketuanan Melayu. The word ‘ketuanan’ is alienating. Malaysia has Eurasians, Indonesians, Chinese, Indians, and so on. If anyone deserves to be called the ‘tuan’ of this land, it’s the Orang Asli.”

Most Malaysians would be forgiven for thinking that it was a non-Malay Malaysian politician speaking out against ketuanan Melayu. But these sentiments were articulated by Nur Farina Noor Hashim, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Puteri bureau head.

“I just had no interest to join Umno,” Farina, who joined PPP in 2004, tells The Nut Graph. PPP is a component party of the Barisan Nasional (BN), of which Umno is the dominant party.

Farina is, of course, referring to the position taken by Umno leaders that suggests ketuanan Melayu is synonymous with Malay rights, and that Malay rights are under threat. Or rather, any questioning of ketuanan Melayu is tantamount to threatening the Malay race.

The consistent message from these Umno leaders of late seems to be that only Umno is capable of defending Malays. Or that Umno is the Malay race. And their currency is ketuanan Melayu.

Farina is not the only Malay Malaysian politician to view with some amount of circumspection Umno’s position as defender of the Malays and their supremacy.

“I love Malays and I love Malaysia,” says Gerakan central committee member Dr Asharuddin Ahmad. “But this country cannot survive without non-Malays. We are all Malaysians. The future of Malaysia lies with multiracial parties,” he tells The Nut Graph.

Future of Malaysia lies with multiracial parties, says Asharuddin
Interestingly, Asharuddin is a former Umno member. He joined Umno in 1988, but left to join Gerakan 10 years later. He says he has been branded a traitor to Malay Malaysians, but asserts that joining Gerakan does not make him “any less Malay or more Malay”.

“Umno’s struggle is not wrong, but I prefer Gerakan’s multiracial approach,” Asharuddin says.

“Ketuanan” alienates

Umno leaders’ defensiveness around the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric is not new. Their recent rancour in attacking dissenters within the BN, such as former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Gerakan Wanita chief Datuk Tan Lian Hoe, was therefore alarming yet unsurprising.

The question, however, is whether Malay Malaysian politicians have a future outside of Umno, especially if they want to remain within the BN.

In that sense, the case of Gerakan’s Asharuddin is interesting, having crossed over from a party that champions ketuanan Melayu to a multiracial one.

But Asharuddin is not alone. Another ex-Umno member who jumped ship to join a multiracial BN component party is Datuk Nik Sapeia Nik Yusof from PPP.

Nik Sapeia was invited by party president Datuk Dr M Kayveas to join, even though he is still facing court proceedings for the charge of attacking former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2006. Nik Sapeia is now the party’s Kelantan chief.

“Before I came along, nobody believed PPP had any supporters in Kelantan,” Nik Sapeia tells The Nut Graph. “Now in Kelantan, every time I organise an event I get thousands of people attending and supporting it. The Kelantanese are ready and they want change to happen in the political scenario here.”

He says the Kelantanese are increasingly seeing that PPP will bring about this much-needed change.

Asharuddin and Nik Sapeia are undoubtedly minorities among the BN’s multiracial component parties. However, they are slowly coming out of the woodwork, especially since the BN’s unprecedented losses in the 8 March 2008 general election.

Farina feels that Umno’s outbursts and threats will only backfire in the long run.

“Malaysians are very open-minded and intelligent now,” she says. “Our politicians must be on par with the rakyat’s intelligence, because it’s the rakyat who want change and will eventually change this country.”

Multiracial politics

The voices of these non-Umno Malay Malaysians within the BN join those in the Pakatan Rakyat that have also been upping the ante against Umno’s ketuanan Melayu rhetoric.

As part of its election campaign, PAS launched its “PAS for all” tagline. The Islamist party also continues to aggressively recruit non-Muslim support via Kelab Penyokong PAS.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leaders, such as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Dr Syed Husin Ali, have been promoting “ketuanan rakyat” instead of “ketuanan Melayu”. And the DAP also scored a coup when it recruited Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim as the party’s vice-chairperson. He was formerly vice-chairperson of Transparency International’s board of directors.

The Pakatan Rakyat parties are therefore, in varying degrees, grappling with their respective multiracial futures. The previously monoreligious, monoracial PAS is trying to appeal to a wider section of Malaysians. In an interview in the November 2008 issue of Off the Edge, even party spiritual advisor Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat said, “[I]f there is a Chinese person in Kelantan who is good, pious and clean, I will campaign for him to become chief minister. As long as he is qualified, as long as he is a Muslim, I don’t care what ethnic background he comes from.”

Nik Aziz Nik Mat (© Murdfreak)
The Chinese-dominated DAP is trying to increase its appeal to non-Chinese Malaysians, specifically Malay Malaysians. And high-level Malay Malaysian leaders in PKR are trying to consolidate the party’s tentative multiracialism.

A little-known fact is that two other opposition parties, albeit non-Pakatan Rakyat members, are multiracial and led by Malay Malaysians. They, too, are vocal in their opposition to the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric.

Historical miscalculations

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) national chairperson Dr Nasir Hashim says Umno’s racial outbursts are rooted in historical miscalculations.

“We made a mistake, even after Merdeka, when we were emerging as a nation. We should have talked about helping the poor among all races and not just zero in on one race,” he tells The Nut Graph.

Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) president Hassan Karim concurs. He tells The Nut Graph: “The NEP (New Economic Policy), being capitalist and race-based, only benefited a minority of Malays. What about analysing it from a class perspective? Not all Chinese are rich either, you know. There cannot be ketuanan Melayu or ketuanan bukan Melayu. There must be justice for all.”

According to PSM’s Nasir, the implementation of the NEP which focused on one race soon gave currency to the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric. But he says ketuanan Melayu is just a red herring. “Name me one Malay who is a pure Malay. There is virtually none â�� all Malays are mixed-blood to some degree.”

Rather, Umno’s outbursts can be seen as the increasingly desperate acts of a party frustrated by its loss of power, he argues. “Umno is frustrated by its losses during the general election, and continues to use race and religion to divert the anger of poor Malays,” adds Nasir.

“Because as so-called leaders of the Malays, Umno has failed. It has not even been able to help poor Malays and Malay entrepreneurs,” he asserts. Therefore, the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric conveniently redirects the frustration and anger of disenfranchised Malay Malaysians towards other races. Herein lies the danger of Umno’s rhetoric, says Nasir.

“In times of economic difficulty, the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric will likely give rise to fascist tendencies. When people are feeling the pinch and they are frustrated, you just need to cucuk them and then they’ll meletup. Umno knows this only too well,” he says.

Again, PRM’s Hassan concurs. “Ketuanan Melayu will destroy our country. I’m a Malay too, you know, but I believe that what Umno is fighting for is feudalistic. We cannot move forward if we follow Umno.”

The Malay Malaysian leaders interviewed all say that interest in their respective parties, both in the BN and opposition, has risen since 8 March, especially among Malays.

It is definitely heartening that there is a diverse and growing number of Malay Malaysian political leaders speaking out against supremacist rhetoric and for an inclusive society. But it is even more encouraging that they are gaining support.

Perhaps this, then, is the most encouraging indicator yet that racial politics is losing currency in Malaysia

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 12/05/2008 - 15:34


Recession is HERE, measures needed now, say PSM
Fauwaz Abdul Aziz | Dec 2, 08 4:20pm

The government should not wait until the economy fulfills all the technical requirements of a recession before taking emergency measures to alleviate the plight of Malaysians, said Parti Sosialis Malaysia.


"We are in a recession now, and the government really has to do something about it," PSM central committee member and Sungai Siput member of parliament Dr Michael D Jeyakumar told a press conference at the party's headquarters in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.

hindraf crc scah talk 121208 jeyakumarThe government stated on Saturday that Malaysia is likely to escape a recession - defined as negative economic growth for two consecutive quarters - next year, and post 3.5% growth despite the global financial crisis, due to strong consumer demand and public spending.

Jeyakumar said "the financial crisis has hit the real economy," and cited news reports of the impending retrenchment of hundreds of thousands of Malaysian workers within and outside country - 300,000 in Singapore alone - and the reduction or complete stoppage of overtime work in hundreds of factories within Malaysia.

He said in his own state of Perak, he knows of factories that have slashed their operations to four-day working weeks, some operate for only two weeks a month, and others have even closed shop due to the lack of orders.

"The sale of electronic goods, of hardware especially, such as computers and cars, have dropped," he added.  

Don't use funds for Umno contractors

Malaysia's top trading partner neighbouring Singapore and Asia's largest economy Japan are already in a recession.

To tackle the fallout from the imminent retrenchment of workers, Jeyakumar called for the federal government to use the RM7 billion it announced as part of an economic stimulus package to create jobs that would directly benefit workers.

foreign workers 201107This would be contrary to any plans the Barisan Nasional-led government may have to channel the funds merely to the small pool of businessmen and contractors who are linked to Umno or the other BN coalition parties, said Jeyakumar, who noted the upcoming party elections in March next year.

By channeling the fund directly to the Public Works Department, the state housing boards, local councils and other such bodies, jobs could be created to employ Malaysians who find themselves out of work due to diminishing market demands and the global economic meltdown, he said.

Reiterating a proposal that had been made earlier, Jeyakumar said a RM500 million retrenchment fund should be set up immediately which can be used for workers whose employers abscond without paying their employees retrenchment benefits.

Need for a food-stamp regime

He said this is a paltry sum compared to the RM5 billion of workers' money from the Employers' Provident Fund (EPF) that will be injected into ValueCap Sdn Bhd to bolster under-invested companies.

jerit workers parliament demo 210906 hambaHe added that PSM also proposes the government lease out 2-3 acres of government land to workers who find themselves unemployed, while idle private land belonging whose owners cannot afford to develop their property due to the recession can be 'borrowed out' to the retrenched.

Also at the press conference was PSM secrety-general S Arutchelvan, who said that because food is a basic right, the party is also proposing that the government put into place a food-stamp regime to ensure that everybody has enough to eat.     

To tackle the precarious situation of workers generally, however, "the issue of foreign workers cannot be addressed without addressing the government's cheap labour policy," said Aruthelvan, who is also Kajang municipal councillor.

Deal with foreign workers humanely

As employers prefer to employ foreign workers as they are cheaper than local hires, the tendency to turn to foreign recruitment agencies will remain as long as there is no decent minimum wage policy in place, he said.

Foreign workers should be encouraged, meanwhile, to return to their home countries by means of incentives such as free flight tickets and other benefits along the lines of 'voluntary separation schemes' practiced by corporations, Arutchelvan added.

On the same matter, Jeyakumar said while the government may say it was no longer issuing new permits for recruitment agencies to import foreign workers, these agencies may seek to use up their existing "unfulfilled" quotas to continuing to bring in labourers.

bangladesh foreign workers migrants 030108As such, there should be an automatic "freezing" of foreign labour importation, he said. In the event that the government decides to repatriate foreign workers, all efforts should be made to ensure the latter are humanely treated, said Jeyakumar.

Arutchelvan also said that if the government and financial institutions could be so gracious to corporations as to give them financial concessions during times of crisis as was seen during the 1997 financial crisis, the same treatment should be meted out to the working classes.

The loans of the working classes should be renegotiated and restructured for those who are encountering difficulties in servicing their housing, vehicles or other purchases.

Jeyakumar also advised the government against reducing corporate tax from the current 27 percent, as it would find it difficult later on to return to this level when better times come around.

Lower corporate tax will mean less revenue for the government and will lead to either higher fees for essential services or to new forms of tax such as the Goods and Sales Tax (GST), said Jeyakumar.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 17:09


Nasir: Get a fresh mandate if you switch sides


By Yong Huey Jiun, 2008/10/14

Putting the voters first means going back to them for a new mandate if you want to cross over, Parti Sosialis Malaysia chairman Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim tells Yong Huey Jiun

Q: In politics, what does loyalty mean to you?

A: To me, loyalty is to the people. The party is just an instrument to ensure empowerment of the people and its existence should revolve around the needs of the people. If a party does not ensure that, the party shouldn’t exist.

Q: From an ethical viewpoint, where do you stand on political crossovers?

A: Whether it’s ethical or not is really a moot question. In the early 1990s, the Kelantan (Pas) government wanted to have an anti-party- hopping law. The (Federal Barisan Nasional) government didn’t allow it at the time because it was deemed to work against the government.

But now the government wants to have it because the situation is unfavourable to Barisan Nasional.

BN cannot accuse Pakatan Rakyat (PR) of being unethical when it has been unethical, too. I’m talking about the hypocrisy of using the word “ethics”.

In that sense, ethics have always been violated and manipulated because it has become situational and often subject to the interest of the political party. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.

Personally, this crossover has to come from the rakyat. You’ve been appointed by the rakyat to represent them; therefore you must abide by the rakyat’s wishes.

If you decide to cross over to another party, the least you can do is consult the people, rather than just defect and expect them to follow suit. As a matter of principle, if the people have voted for you under a particular ticket, you should stick to it. When you move, you have betrayed them because they voted for you under this ticket. Only a by-election can decide.

Q: Even if a member of parliament believes he or she can no longer serve effectively under his or her party or that the party is no longer staying true to its doctrine?

A: Then why can’t he or she resign and have a by-election and let the people decide?

We have to respect the people’s wishes even when we feel it’s wrong (to stay with the party).

As a socialist, I’m happy that the people were empowered in the last (general) election and I want the empowerment to continue, where they can finally decide the kind of leaders they want. We don’t want them to regress. When you cross over, you sidestep them. The rakyat made you what you are. Whether you’re in BN or PR, you must always be subservient to them.

Q: Should we have an anti-party hopping law?

A: Whom do you represent? Do you represent yourself or the people? If you represent the people, then they must be consulted. The voice of the people must be heard.

As to whether we should have an anti-party-hopping law, politicians have the right to cross over. But when they do, I find that they no longer represent the people any more because people voted for them on a certain platform.

If you want to change the platform, you have to go back to the people and tell them, “I am going to change platform because things are bad. I want the vote from you.”

Let the people decide. That’s very crucial. You could go around and conduct a survey. But the official thing to do is still to step down, go back to the people and ask for their blessings.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 17:25


Web version available at:

"Sungai Siput is a PKR seat"
3 Dec 08 : 9.00AM

By Elizabeth Looi

Corrected on 2 Dec 2008 at 11.30am

PETALING JAYA, 3 Dec 2008: Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is staking its claim on the Sungai Siput parliamentary seat in Perak and the Kota Damansara state seat in Selangor although the elected representatives are from Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

Dr Syed Husin Ali
Dr Syed Husin Ali
PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali said this even though PSM has been a registered political party since 19 Aug 2008.

Additionally, Parliament has identified the Sungai Siput Member of Parliament (MP) as being from PSM, including in the name plates that are placed where the MPs sit in the Dewan. At the same time, when Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj stands up to speak, PSM is the party name that is displayed on TV monitors.

However, Syed Husin said this did not mean Sungai Siput was no longer a PKR seat. "He went into Parliament as PKR candidate, so it is still PKR's seat," he said.

PKR's official position is that it remains the largest opposition party with 31 parliamentary seats, including Sungai Siput. "What is the issue here? What is the confusion? These are originally PKR seats," Syed Husin said in a phone interview.

He explained that the opposition parties of PKR, PAS and DAP had agreed before the 8 March elections that the Sungai Siput, Kota Damansara and Semenyih seats would be allocated to PKR.

Hence, these seats were "originally" PKR's. "But we allowed PSM candidates to contest there out of good will after they wrote to us and discussions were held. Other parties were unwilling to concede any seats to PSM," he said.

PKR logo
PKR's logo
Both Jeyakumar and Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim, who is the state assemblyperson for Kota Damansara, won the 8 March elections under the PKR logo and banner because PSM was not yet registered then.

(Corrected) PKR also allowed PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvan to contest in the Semenyih state seat in Selangor under the PKR banner but he lost.

To another question, Syed Husin said: "It is not true that we gave the seats because we were desperate for good and eligible candidates. We had our own candidates but, like I said, we did it out of good will."

Asked if this meant PSM had no state or parliamentary seats, he said: "Strictly speaking, the three constituencies belong to PKR. The PSM does not have a constituency of its own. The seats it won were also given to PSM to indicate PKR's support for the party's efforts to gain registration then."

Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj
"No big deal"

When contacted, Jeyakumar said the matter was "no big deal" as long as he was recognised as a PSM representative in Parliament.

He confirmed that he had to stand for elections under the PKR ticket because PSM was not registered then, adding that PSM was grateful for PKR's support.

"Many of us (opposition candidates) won not because of our party alone but the support of other parties, too.

"When I campaigned for the seat, (PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) came and spoke at my ceramah for me," Jeyakumar said.

PSM's logo
PSM's logo

Jeyakumar said PSM believed that PKR was playing a positive role in Malaysian politics by focusing on socio-economic issues such as repealing the Internal Security Act and other unjust laws.

PSM, however, has said they would not join the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as there were some areas of disagreement.

(Corrected) In the 1999 general election, Jeyakumar contested unsuccessfully under the DAP banner against incumbent MIC candidate Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu in a three-cornered fight that included Malaysian Democratic Party candidate Mohamad Asri Othman.

In the 2004 elections, Jeyakumar again contested unsuccessfully against Samy Vellu but under the PKR banner. Also contesting the seat then in a three-cornered fight was DAP candidate Sanmugam Ponmugam Ponnan.