SOCIALISM 2009 MALAYSIA – A REVIEW
This year socialism was attended by a broad range of people from students, leftists, activists, liberals, progressives as well as the hardcore. The seats were always packed, the discussions were always hot and the environment was red. Maybe the topic chosen by the organisers and its timing was the pulling factor – 2 Party System in Malaysia, A Critical Analysis.
The first panel who discussed on the theory of 2 party system and the experiences of other countries basically did not have anything good to say about the 2 party systems. For example Harris was quite critical about the existing situation in Malaysia where we have both Barisan Nasional & Pakatan coalitions as ruling party for the first time in history. He was off the view that rhetoric alone is not going to save Pakatan and they need to work hard to bring reforms, otherwise a third force driven by ‘rakyat’ is the solution to bring real changes desired by people in the 2008 election.
The other panel member, Dr. Kumar from PSM quoted experiences of countries like Britain, Sri Lanka, India, Chile, Soviet Union including the situation in Perak. His conclusion is that “would there be a real change, when we are just replacing Pepsi with Coke?” Anyway, in Malaysia’S context it took 50 years to change from Pepsi to Coke. That definitely says something!
He recommended that we read a book written by Lenin on State and Revolution which argues that as long as there is state, there will be suppression even if it is a Workers State as they need to get rid of the capitalist. But he also mentioned that Soviet Union has proven that you don’t need the capitalist to run the economy, the question now is do you need them to save democracy!
Meanwhile our comrade from Thailand, Vipar Daomanee gave her country situation – not 2 party system but 2 colours, Red and Yellow. The marginalised and the poor are with the ‘red’ faction while the rich and the bourgeoisie are the ‘yellow’ faction. So, which side would you chose?
From the theory, the discussion went to another REALl subject “BN vs. PR: Future of 2 party system in Malaysia” and the panels were quite representative – PY Wong (on behalf of Saifuddin from PKR), Khalid Samad from PAS and Wong Chin Huat representing the civil society. Lots were said and many contradictions as well. For example between the fundamental right to choose and the right to stand in election vs. the so called spoilers! These ‘spoilers’ could be any third force reps including PSM or independent candidates who has genuine intention or concrete programme to bring changes compared to PR. Thus, one of the proposals from the panel was Proportional Representative System. The argument was this would allow more parties or candidates to contest and it gives added balance instead of forcing the voters to choose between two parties as in for example USA.
In Malaysia context, the issue is what does Pakatan has to offer when their policies are very similar to BN. Clearly to woo the voters! Can Pakatan beat the BN in pouring ‘cashes’? Pakatan does not have clear stand on fundamental issues like neo-liberal policies and privatisations. It appears they welcome it! We have 4 states under Pakatan for the past 1.5 years, yet each one are with their own policies and programmes – we don’t see them using their strength or solidarity to bring fundamental changes, for example in restoring Local Council Elections.
We don’t deny the fact that Pakatan Government has taken a lot of initiative to ‘clean up’ BN’s dirty work in terms of money wasted on incompetent contractors and extravagant projects that damages environment and misuse of tax payers money. The marvellous work of Pakatan ‘selected’ city counsellors who are only getting pittance must be applauded too. But the question is ‘are the rakyat happy with what is being done?’ or is the Pakatan government effectively doing ‘what is expected by the grassroots?’
The third panel discussion on THIRD FORCE once again put Pakatan on the spot especially their role in bringing social justice to the nation. The organisers had 3 prominent speakers for this topic, Toh Kin Voon (former Gerakan State Assemblyman), Muhammad Sabu (PAS CC member) and Arul (PSM’s Sec Gen).
Dr. Toh, the first speaker was emphasizing on the failure of existing government to bring social justice to people, the ever growing rich and poor gap, the fear in the rakyat’s mind as well as the need for progressive groups including PSM to build the third force. He also suggested that PSM should work with Pakatan but at the same time retain its independence.
As usual Saudara Sabu, the great orator entertained the audience with his many remarks that was funny yet very significant. Merdeka Review carried on of his annotations “Religion is the opium of the masses”. Mat Sabu also thanked Chin Peng for killing Henry Gurney who was the main character in displacing the Palestinians. Those who were at the forum would not have forgotten his brave remarks, if ever Chin Peng were allowed into the country, his first speech should be held in Sitiawan and 100 thousands will be there. I just want to be the MC”. He called on for the demands to be rewritten.
Another remark he made about the changes brought by the people in 2008 election is an indication that the people would not hesitate to change any government including Pakatan if they fail to deliver. He was very optimistic. He also stressed that as PSM believes in Socialism, PAS believes in Islamic ideology to bring social justice to all regardless race or religion and they should continue to work towards it.
S. Arutchelvan PSM Secretary General was one of the panels and he humbly said that PSM is not done enough to be the third force at this moment. At the same time the party does not have any illusion about 2 party systems. He said that the immediate task at hand is to build the workers force and we should use this moment to radicalise the people and not to give ‘hand-outs’.
The organisers had an open forum the following day at a Chinese Temple opposite Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in order to give way to PRM Annual Congress at the Assembly hall. PSM felt that since PRM was an older party, it is only honourable to allow it to use the Assembly hall.
The second day forum was on the Impact of Neo-liberal policies and building resistance against neo-liberal offensive. There was good number of foreign and local popular panellists such as Dr. Farish Noor, Charles Santiago, Francisco Dodong from Philippines & many others.
Only again chairs had to be added as the crowd kept coming in.
Comrade Dominggo, the first panellist from Indonesia was very distressed with the fact that more informal sectors (about 70%) causing weakening of unionization among workers. More workers in the industrial site getting laid off and in the labour market, the supply is more than the demand. So, wages goes down, quality of live goes down, education and health goes down but inflation kept growing and so does consumption. Meaning people can’t save and they are embedded with debt. He said that 115 million people in Indonesian surviving with less that USD2 a day. Why? Neo-liberalism
Our second panellist Comrade Dodong spoke more about his government’s involvement in implementing Neo-liberal policy and it seems Philippine is the first country to embrace neo-liberalism in the region. Obviously, since they have ‘special relationship’ with the Americans. He is furious with the national bourgeoisie who were given tons of money by the government took a shortcut by becoming sub-contractors to many industries established overseas and they failed to build technology in their own country. There is imbalance between domestic capital going out and foreign investment coming in. When a nation is highly dependent on foreign investment, it has direct impact on their sustainability.
Our third speaker, comrade Charles expanded the discussion to international level e.g. the Free Trade Agreement bilateral and unilateral dialogues that is currently going on in the region. He also reminded the audience of how much privatisation in Malaysia e.g. water, rice, electricity, health and so on is burdening the grassroots. While on the other hand, government is absorbing loss of the corporate sectors who lacks expertise in the industries they invested and making huge loss. And yet the government reduce the tax of the corporate sectors from 40% (1988) to 26% (2009) while planning to implement Goods and Service Tax that was suspended 2 years back. Meaning the public, 25 million Malaysians will pay tax for every single thing purchased. It’s not a problem at all for the 6% richest in the country, it is certainly too much for the 70% poor and the middle class!
Our last speaker for the first panel, Comrade Farish took us to the global arena. His point of view is that War on Terror is strongly linked to Neo-Liberalism. How? Terrorism is basically a form of resistance. The impact of free market since the 1970’s and the intervention of the FDI – foreign direct investment as well as Structural Adjustment Policies introduced by IMF and World Bank led to social upheaval to many countries in SEA. In order for capitalism to grow, the unions and the leftist who were against the free market were squashed. He says, the resistance also came in the form of ethno nationalist and religio-communalist! The suffering from the neo-liberal policies are immeasurable thus the resistance is growing and how do you counter it? Anti-terrorist campaign of US and its cronies get full support from the ASIA countries as well.
After hearing about the evil of neo-liberal economics, we were introduced to another group of panels, Comrade Mahendra from Indonesia, Vipar from Thailand, Teodorico from Phillipines and Sivarajan from Malaysia. They spoke about “Building Resistance against Neo-liberal Offensive”.
Number of propositions prompt from this discussion – building workers force, working class party, factory occupations and workers self management, joint campaign by SEA left groups, creating the hegemony through various party e.g. Islamic groups, green movement and the socialist. There was strong recommendation that we should be upfront in countering capitalist hegemony and called for class consciousness in the region to fight these emerging trends of capitalism.
Time to time and each speaker almost stressing on the same issue – build the third force driven by the masses by radicalising them and that would able them to make informed decision in determining who hold the power in the government – Islamists, capitalists, liberalists or socialists.