Soh Sook Hwa, a member of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, is taking part in the conference “How to make a revolution” organised by Resistance. Resistance member Sean Brocklehurst interviewed her about the political campaigns she is involved with in Malaysia.
What is happening in Malaysian politics at the moment?
There was a historic election in May this year. Many Malaysians expected the government to lose power but the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), was re-elected with a majority of seats and 47% of the popular vote.
BN were able to win by taking advantage of gerrymandering. Yet, the election was still a significant one. It was the first time that the Opposition won a higher percentage of the popular vote than BN since 1969.
We also saw how people, particularly young people, first or second time voters, took ownership of the election. Many of them were campaigning actively for the opposition parties and volunteering to contribute whatever they could to topple BN.
These unorganised and spontaneous young people are full of potential. And many of them participated in rallies that protested the election results, organised by opposition parties.
Although winning with a lesser vote, BN are still aggressively sticking to its undemocratic and neo-liberal agenda. The regime has restored detention without trial, and introduced a range of new laws which are politically motivated. One of the new laws mandates prison terms of five to 15 years for promoting a false national flag.
What are the major political issues for Malaysian people?
The regime is expected to introduce a Goods and Services Tax (GST) in the coming budget. This regressive tax will definitely burden the lower and medium income groups who have recently suffered a fuel hike.
The government sucks money from ordinary people, while continuing to give subsidies to corporations and white elephant projects that favour their cronies.
What major struggles has the PSM been involved in?
We are now working on several issues. One of our organisations, JERIT, is calling a nationwide protest against GST [in the] next weeks.
We are part of the forces to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) which promotes a neoliberal agenda.
We are planning a housing rights campaign. Owning a house is extremely expensive nowadays in Malaysia due to investor speculation. Developers are building luxury houses to maximise their profit and the government is doing nothing to stop this real estate bubble. Not only the poorest communities are suffering from this, but the medium income groups are spending a large portion of their salary to pay the mortgage.
We are campaigning for the regulation of property buying and selling, and the government is responsible for providing a housing scheme for the first time house buyer.
The village of Hakka has existed since at least the 1860s. However, a private developer has bought the land rights and is intent on destroying the village to build housing and shops. The PSM has played a role in helping the villagers defend their homes.
Can you tell us about their struggle and the role the PSM has played in it?
Kampong Hakka has existed since the 1860s. In the 1960s, the local land authority issued Temporary Occupation Licences to all the villagers. And the villagers have been paying assessments to the local municipal council for years.
In 1998, the state government sold the land to developers without consulting the residents. In 2005, the local government and developers decided to launch a housing project on the site and offer each house owner a few thousand as compensation. This is totally unacceptable.
The developers then summoned the villagers to court for illegal occupation. The court favoured the rich and narrowly defined who had the land title as the legitimate owner. The judge ruled in favour of the developers without considering the history of this Hakka village.
A forced eviction happened on September 30. The PSM and our front organisation, Community Front (CF), organised the villagers to defend their houses. Police, bailiffs and the developers were working hand in hand to demolish the houses.
Six PSM activists — among them PSM Secretary General Arul and National Treasurer Sivarajan — and seven villagers were brutally arrested during the incident.
News of the forced eviction spread widely through the press and social media. The villagers and activists are now pressuring the state government to resolve the issue.
The Malaysia government has agreed to pay six PSM members RM200,000 [about US$63,000] following the settlement, for false imprisonment [after going to] the High Court.
Can you tell us about their imprisonment and the struggle around that?
The party launched a pre-election campaign against the ruling government in June 2011. Two buses of our activists and supporters were leafleting in northern and southern region respectively. We travelled from town to town to [give] out our pamphlets.
On the second day of the campaign, both buses were stopped by the police. The police found t-shirts bearing the images of freedom fighters Suriani, Rashid Maidin and Chin Peng in the northern team’s bus, and alleged [the] PSM was waging war against the king.
All 30 participants from the north, including PSM member of parliament Dr Jeyakumar, were detained overnight and later remanded for one week.
One week later, six of the detainees, including Dr Jeyakumar, PSM Deputy Chairperson Saras, Central Committee member Choo Chon Kai, Central Committee member Sugu, Sungai Siput branch secretary Letchu and Socialist Youth Chairperson Babu, were released and rearrested under the draconian law Emergency Ordinance, which allows detention without trial.
Six of them (the EO6) were accused of organising [the] Bersih rally which happened later on July 9, 2011. The rest of the 24 detainees were released on police bail.
We were very clear that the ridiculous charge was aimed to stop people from attending the pro-democracy “Bersih” rally. However, even using terror and heavy police presence to block the rally, 50,000 took part in the protest on July 9.
We gained lots of support from people on our campaign to release the six activists. People staged daily vigils in different parts of the country to show their solidarity to the detainees. Our friends in Australia, Hong Kong and UK also organised gatherings to lend their support.
The huge support from the ground forced the government to release the EO6 [from] their 28-day detention under the Emergency Ordinance. The PSM then took a civil case against the Malaysia government and the police force for wrongful arrest. The Malaysian government has agreed to pay RM200,000 in damages. For the government to pay EO6 the damages, it means that they admit to their mistake of wrongful arrest of the six.
[How to make a revolution will be held in Brisbane from December 13 – 15. For more information, visit resistance.org.au.]