Malaysia: People's power defeats evictions — for now

Issue 

The following article is abridged from an August 13 statement by the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM). The full article can be found at www.links.org.au.

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Today was the moment of truth for Kampung Buah Pala villagers. It was the third time their homes have faced demolition. But it was the first time the local villagers outnumbered the outsiders, who were the majority present during the previous demolition attempt on August 4.

Today, when the police, the developer and the bailiff came, the villagers did not have the luxury of the presence of state assemblypeople, state government representatives or even lawyers. Only a handful of PSM members and Hindraf [a civil rights organisation] supporters were with the villagers.

The PSM has been fighting side by side with the villagers for several months.

In a July 1 statement, the PSM said it was "fully aware that the previous state government under the Barisan National is to blame for the current problems in Kampung Buah Pala, Penang; yet the Democratic Action Party-led Pakatan Rakyat government cannot just wash its hands and blame the previous government all the way.

"In fact it puts to test or rather gives Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng a chance to prove that his government is pro-people [rather than] pro-capitalist."

The PSM said that through its experience of "fighting and championing many urban poor settlement it sees that the biggest conflict surrounding land disputes as not questions of ethnicity or heritage but rather a question of class.

"In most cases, the capitalist class using its financial muscle obtains land by buying the state government and its politicians. The poor settlers who have spent decades developing the land are left in the lurch and shown the exit door.

"The legal argument is standard — they are illegals, squatters and trespassers.

"In cases where the people have triumphed, it is because of the resistance and struggle they put forward."

On August 13, police and the demolition squad were ready. Some of the squad were identified by the local people as gangsters employed by the developer.

The demolition squad was made up of mostly local Malay and Chinese workers and gangsters. The villagers are all Indian Malaysians. In other eviction areas, similar tactics have been used to divide people by race.

The villagers did not get sidetracked this time. They handled it very well. They formed their own barricade, mainly of women and children, and faced the police.

The police started pushing to make way for the bulldozers, but the villagers pushed them back. They fought very bravely. In the end the police gave up and ordered developers to stand down.

The police and contractors then tried to come in from the back of the village, but villagers managed to block them. More people arrived from outside to assist the villagers.

The bailiff began marking more houses to be demolished. He gave residents between 15 and 30 minutes to leave. Villagers responded by locking themselves in their homes.

There was yet another stand-off outside when the police started pushing the villagers again to make way for bulldozers. This time the villagers were angrier, and pushed police far back.

As the hours passed, the developer had not succeeded in moving forward. Finally, the developer drafted an agreement to postpone the evictions until August 31. The agreement said the villagers had to move out by that date.

After some consultation, the villagers voted and agreed to sign the agreement, as it will give them more time.

For today the villagers have once again stopped the eviction and saved their village. The battle is not over.