Malaysia: 'Real power comes from the people'

November 20, 2009

More than 200 activists, including a large proportion of youth and women, packed Kuala Lumpur's Chinese Assembly Hall for the first day of Socialism 2009, an annual conference organised by the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM).

The focus was an analysis of "the two-party system in Malaysia" after the "electoral tsunami" in March last year. With the opposition Peoples Alliance (PR) winning five out of 13 states, it raised the possibility of an opposition group taking power in Malaysia for the first time in 50 years.

The PSM shocked the political establishment by winning a seat in the national parliament and one in the Selangor State Assembly — the first socialists elected to parliament since the 1960s.

PSM central committee member Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, elected to the national parliament by defeating a powerful government minister, was labelled the "giant killer" by the press.

The PSM organised the conference as a discussion among the broader left, with the majority of attendees and speakers not PSM members. Speakers included well-known Malaysian academics and NGO activists, as well as opposition PR leaders.

Addressing the conference, Devaraj argued that for real change was needed in Malaysia's political system. He said parties are needed that are "based on the people", giving Venezuela as an example of a genuine alternative under construction.

Researcher Toh Kin Woon argued for a political "third force" that puts the case for equality, justice and social services, beyond the two-party system.

PSM general secretary and Kajang councillor S.Arutchelvan argued that "real power comes from the people". He said the PSM is working with the people to fight the US Free Trade Agreement, against the regressive Goods and Services Tax, and for a minimum wage.

Arutchelvan said, despite the limitations of the opposition, the prospect of toppling the National Front (BN) government, which has been in power for five decades, excited people. He said the PSM needs to relate to that.

The PSM had to fight for 10 years to get officially registered as a political party, allowing it to stand in elections under its own name. It first applied on May Day 1998, and finally won last year.
Arutchelvan said: "The government spent 11 years trying to stop the PSM getting registered [as a political party], so it must see potential there!"

The PSM has grown rapidly, with a 400% increase in party membership between 2003 and 2008. The PSM went from two branches in 1999 to 14 branches, with offices in seven states and members across the country.

The PSM has launched a youth organisation, despite laws outlawing politics on university campuses.

The conference featured a discussion on "fighting neoliberal attacks and capitalism in South East Asia", involving representatives from left groups from across the region.

The next international version of the conference, Socialism 2010, will be held in the Philippines .

[For more information on the conference and the PSM, visit]

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