The Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) is contesting four seats in the May 5 general elections, one federal parliamentary seat and three state assembly.
The PSM won two of these seats in the 2008 election: Jeyakumar Devaraj, or “Kumar” as he is better known, won the federal parliamentary seat of Sungai Siput from a high profile former minister. PSM chairperson Nasir Hashim won the Selangor state assembly seat of Kota Damansara.
Also, the PSM is standing its secretary-general S Arutchelvan (“Arul”) for the Selangor state assembly seat of Semenyih and its deputy chairperson M Sarasvathy (“Saras”) for the Perak state assembly seat of Jelapang.
In the lead up to the election, the PSM painstakingly sought to negotiate with other opposition parties to avoid a three-corner contest with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in these seats.
“Our aim was clear,” MP Jeyakumar told Green Left Weekly, “respecting the overwhelming desire of the people for a change of government we sought to work with the opposition parties to have the most respected opposition candidate put forward in each seat”.
This sentiment is expressed in the popular slogan “Ini kalilah!” meaning “This time, lah!” “Lah” is the ubiquitous slang suffix for emphasis in Malaysia.
However, just before the close of nominations on April 20 candidates from other opposition parties were nominated in three of the four seats being contested by the PSM.
“The PSM is three-cornered contests in two seats (Semenyih and Jelapang) where it is standing in its own name,” PSM international relations officer Choo Chon Kai explained to GLW.
“We agreed, in negotiations with the other opposition parties, to contest the two seats the PSM holds using [Anwar Ibrahim's] Justice Party [PKR] logo, but still ended up facing a challenge from a candidate from the Islamic Party [PAS] in Kota Damansara.
“When PSM finally got its registration in August 2008, after a 10-year struggle, we decided to contest with our own logo but also decided to forge an electoral pact with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat [People's Front] to fight against BN effectively during election.
“PSM made serious attempts to work out with the Pakatan leadership what logo to use and seats to be contested. We did not demand much, only one parliamentary seat out of 222, one out of 59 Perak state seats and two out of 56 Selangor state seats.
“But some Pakatan leadership did not want PSM to contest with its own logo. They gave all sort of excuses like the people are 'not familiar' with the PSM's clenched fist symbol, or that this logo will scare away voters.
“In fact, this is not true, the PSM logo is very popular in places where PSM has worked and many young people even in rural villages are asking that our flags be put in their areas.
“Almost a week before nomination, Anwar Ibrahim (who representing Pakatan leadership )told PSM to use the PKR logo in three of the seats we asked for and to let go of the Jelapang seat.
“As a concession, the PSM agreed to use the PKR logo but told Anwar that the PSM need to get endorsement from the party's national committee.
“While the negotiation process was still going on, PKR's Selangor chief (also PKR deputy president) Azmin Ali suddenly announced that a PKR candidate ― who had never worked in Semenyih ― would contest in the constituency. This broke down the negotiation process and Arul was forced into a three-corner fight in Semenyih.
“The PKR issued the authority for the PSM to use the PKR logo in Sugai Siput and Kota Damansara seats but withheld it subject to demands that the PSM pull out from Semenyih and Jelapang.
“Meanwhile in Jelapang, the PSM has proposed to another Pakatan component party, the Democratic Action Party [DAP] that an independent committee consists of civil society representatives resolve the issue of who would be the best opposition candidate for the seat. But DAP did not respond to that proposal at all.
“So finally, the PSM is forced to contest three-corner in Jelapang and Semenyih (using its own party name and logo), while contesting under the PKR logo in Sungai Siput and Kota Damansara as a compromise.
“The PSM is clearly calling the voter to vote for PSM in the seats we contested and vote for Pakatan Rakyat in all other seats.”
The mixed political character of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition front is clearly behind the battle over logos and candidates with the PSM.
Choo explained: “The Pakatan Rakyat manifesto is trying to please all sections of society to get the biggest vote for Pakatan.
“The greatest strength of the Pakatan manifesto is the welfare state program proposed, which includes free education, introduction of some social security [there is no age pension], etc. But it omitted many of the crucial demands of civil society like local elections and the setting of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
“The Pakatan leadership also seems to be trying to please foreign investors and looking towards a more 'free market approach' though this isn't mentioned in its manifesto.”
But despite the mixed character of the opposition, said Choo: “The PSM is concentrating campaigning to end the 56-year rule of BN in this election. There has been too much corruption, squandering of the people's wealth and selling off people's rights. It has to come to an end.”