Malaysian socialists warn of return of Mahathir-style repression

Issue 

"As present deputy PM Najib Razak plans to takeover the prime ministership on April 2, there seems to be a pattern of growing repression", warned Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) secretary general S. Arutchelvan.

"The dark ages of [former PM] Mahathir are returning with incidents such as the one-year suspension from parliament of opposition MP Gobind Singh Deo, the three-month ban of two popular opposition newspapers, recent police attacks on opposition public assemblies, the referring of sodomy charges against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to the High Court [and] the setting up of a new 'anti-corruption agency' to investigate opposition leaders."

Another example, S. Arutchelvan warned, was the rejection of the PSM's party symbol — a red clenched fist.

On March 23, riot police used a water cannon and tear gas to attack a 5000-strong public meeting of opposition People's Justice Party (PKR) supporters in Sungei Patani.

PSM deputy chairperson M. Saraswathy told Green Left Weekly that the increasingly unpopular National Front (BN) government were "resorting to more dirty, more lawless and more devious means to hold onto power at any cost".

"The March 2008 political tsunami that swept the PR [the People's Front opposition coalition] into power in five states was the result of an unprecedented level of disenchantment with the BN's 50-year rule.

"The neoliberal policies of the government made the lives of the majority miserable. All the welfare state projects were rolled back one by one, resulting in rising prices of basic services while real wages dropped.

"Now the current economic crisis is pushing people into greater hardship and further angering them", Saraswathy told GLW. "People have little faith that the federal government's hefty stimulus packages will benefit them."

In February, the BN regained controlled of one of five state governments won by opposition parties in the 2008 elections through dirty tactics.

"The PR had a narrow three-seat majority in the state assembly but the BN wrested away three seats from the PR by using back door tactics", Saraswathy explained.

"They bought over two PKR state assembly members who were facing corruption charges, and went on to pay a hefty sum of money to a [Democratic Action Party] state assemblywoman who was the deputy speaker.

"The BN used the Perak monarchy to aid and abet in their unlawful power grab. The Perak Sultan, who has large vested financial interests, removed the opposition government."

Saraswathy said that the PSM continued to "put forward socialist arguments, analysis, perspectives and proposals, making our one MP stand apart from the rest".

These include "a retrenchment fund, land for farming, food stamps, freezing of housing loan repayments", he said.

"A number of these demands were carried to the public in a nation-wide bicycle campaign that made history. The PSM's cyclists, who faced police harassment as they made their way around the country, finally entered parliament and handed over a memorandum.

"This has never happened before, and was only made possible because of our MP. It succeeded in highlighting the demands of the campaign to a large number of people.

"We believe change comes through people's power", Saraswathy said. "We still have a long way to go in the struggle.

"But our election victories have had a great impact on the party's development. Having a vocal state assembly member in Selangor and a federal parliamentarian have been very good propaganda platforms for the party and enabled us to demonstrate to people what socialists stand for.

"Party policies and actions in PSM constituencies, such as yearly asset declarations, formation of People's Consultative Councils at the constituency level, and the practice of a different culture of politics — all this has had great appeal and has contributed to the likelihood of PSM becoming a third force on the Malaysian political scene."

[M. Saraswathy will be one of several international guest speakers at the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, Australia, April 10-12. For more information, or to book tickets, visit http://www.worldatacrossroads.org.]

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