The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) Socialism 2016 conference, held over November 25-27, featured solidarity with Maria Chin, chairperson of the Bersih anti-government movement who was being held in solitary confinement under the anti-democratic Security Operations Special Measures Act.
A special candle light vigil was held before the solidarity night which opened the conference. Chin was released on November 28 after 10 days in detention.
Bersih is the movement against corruption and for clean elections in Malaysia. The mass Bersih 5.0 protest was held one week before the conference.
Another feature was a special commemoration session for Fidel Castro, who passed away the day the conference began.
The conference took up a wide range of issues, including challenging religious fundamentalism and the fight against homophobia — topics that remain controversial in Malaysian society. A number of participants congratulated the PSM for creating a space where discussion about tackling queer oppression could take place openly.
Another important discussion took place about the role of socialists in elections. This is an ongoing discussion for the PSM, which currently has one federal MP.
Contesting elections as a “third force” is not easy in Malaysia, where the corrupt and repressive Barisan Nasional (BN) has been the sole party of government since Malaysia won independence from Britain more than 50 years ago.
This creates a strong pressure for “ABU” — Anyone But UMNO, which is the leading party in the BN coalition. As Malaysia has first-past-the-post elections, any “third force” risks splitting the opposition vote and perpetuating BN rule.
The opposition made big advances at the 2013 elections, winning government in some states. But it failed to take government at the national level.
Since then, the opposition has split, with the Islamic Party (PAS) breaking away. Further, former prime minister Mahatir Mohamad, who began the process of neoliberal attacks in Malaysia during his repressive 1981-2003 rule, has formed a new party and criticised the government. He also spoke at the Berish rally.
Against this backdrop, electoral tactics are an ongoing discussion in the PSM.
Other conference sessions included: neoliberalism, global warming, the phenomena of mass support for left-wing politicians Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the United States, and building socialism in the 21st century.
International guests included representatives of the Party of the Labouring Masses (Philippines), Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist– Liberation, the Awami Workers Party (Pakistan), Working Peoples Party and the People's Liberation Party (Indonesia), the Socialist Alliance (Australia) and the Fourth International.