Malaysian socialist on undemocratic laws

Malaysia's National Front (BN) government continues to refuse the Malaysian Socialist Party's (PSM) application to register as a political party, claiming that the PSM is a threat to national security.

On the basis that the right to form a political party is a constitutional right, the PSM became the first party in Malaysia's history to take the ruling party and home minister to court for abusing their power.

While fighting this anti-democratic decision in the courts, the PSM has continued its activities in a bold and open way, leading street demonstrations, pickets and land occupations — with PSM comrades often hauled off to jail for the simple exercise of the political right to protest.

Prevented from contesting elections under its own name, PSM contested the March 8 general elections under the banner of the People's Justice Party (PKR), led by former deputy prime Anwar Ibrahim.

Green Left Weekly spoke to PSM General Secretary
S. Arutchelvan about how they got around this undemocratic restriction.

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Was the PSM left with no choice but to run its four candidates under the banner of another party?

Our party was torn between running as independents or using a friendly opposition party logo. The problem with running under an independent logo is that our candidates would have only got their symbol on nomination day and so it would an incredible task to print the posters, flyers, flags, etc, unless the campaign period was longer than the mere 12 days that was allowed in this election.

What was the arrangement with the PKR? Did you have an agreed common platform and shared campaign material?

The arrangement was simply that we borrow its logo — that's it. We had previously also stood under its logo in the 2004 elections. There were no conditions set and we had to fight hard on the negotiation table to get these seats.

All our election campaign material was done by ourselves.

We had our own seven-point election manifesto because the PKR even has some common political policies with the BN. These points were:

• Workers' rights to be safeguarded (e.g. minimum wage, automatic recognition of unions and 90 day maternal leave).

• Eradicate neoliberal policies (e.g. halting privatisation of health care, education and other public necessities).

• Stop the Free Trade Agreement with Western imperial powers.

• Provide comfortable and humane housing for both rural and urban inhabitants.

• Stop racial and religious politics in order to foster greater unity.

• Eradicate corruption and abuse of power.

• Stop the destruction of the environment.

I saw both PKR and PSM flags in some pictures of your campaigns.

Some of PKR's supporters wanted us to use the PSM flag less or the PKR flag. Their reasoning included not confusing the voters as the only flag which would appear on the ballot paper was the PKR's. The other factor was fear — fear of losing votes because of being branded socialist and members of a non-registered party.

The PSM's position was that elections are means to popularise the party, therefore we used our own logo and flags. The official attire worn by party workers was red, while the PKR's was light blue.

The PKR has an alliance with the fundamentalist Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) and in previous elections this has lost them some voters, particularly in the non-Muslim communities. The BN sought to cultivate this fear in its election campaign.

In this election, that BN tactic failed. In fact many non-Malay voters even voted PAS directly. It was a clear protest vote against Prime Minister Abdullah Radawo and the BN. PAS also changed its battle cry from a call for an Islamic state to a call for a welfare state, which was received well by many voters.