Malaysian socialists: Why we need a new politics

Malaysian Socialist Party candidate Nik Aziz Afiq.

The Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) is contesting the Semenyih by-election in the state seat of Selangor on March 2. Green Left Weekly’s Alex Salmon spoke to the campaign’s media coordinator, Nalini Elumalai.

What can you tell me about the PSM’s candidate, Nik Aziz Afiq?

Nik Aziz Afiq has been a full-time PSM activist since 2016. Nik is also a central committee member of PSM’s youth wing since 2017. He is also a sought-after practitioner of traditional Malay wellness massage in the Semenyih area of Selangor.

Nik is contesting a four-cornered contest for the Semenyih state assembly seat, along with Muhammad Aiman Zainali of Pakatan Harapan (PH), Zakaria Hanafi of the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Kuan Chee Heng, an independent candidate.

At 25 years of age, Nik is the youngest of the four candidates. His passion and involvement in activism and community service was ignited when, in 2016, as a student he became active in various grassroots welfare activities. Then, Nik joined Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj [former Socialist MP for Sungai Siput] in a research team studying rural poverty among fishermen, farmers and rubber tappers in Kedah and Terengganu.

Nik has led several peaceful protests: in front of the Embassy of Papua New Guinea to protest the death of student activists, the US Embassy in solidarity with Palestine and the Embassy of Bangladesh to protest against student beatings.

Nik has been arrested several times, including while he was protesting against the illegal demolition of a cattle farm in the Klang valley.

He is a courageous activist who is unafraid to stand up for what is right.

What does the PSM hope to achieve by contesting this by-election?

PSM wants to use the Semenyih by-election campaign to put forward socialist positions on local and national issues that are not getting enough attention from the media and the government.

PSM holds press conferences daily to raise issues including healthcare, affordable housing, student loans for higher education, the plight of contract workers, and low-cost housing.

PSM is also seeking to promote a new narrative in the choice of which candidate to put first. We are asking voters to support candidates based on their work with communities, their experience, credibility and integrity, instead of just supporting whichever dominant party is already in power.

PSM is showcasing how its candidates are different from the others. For example, Nik is the only candidate who has publicly declared his assets. He is also the only one who has taken a public oath against leveraging around racial views. Nik is also the only candidate who has launched a local manifesto based on local issues.

What types of campaigns has the PSM undertaken in the Semenyih area?

PSM has been doing a lot of work there for the last decade, not just because there is an election. For example, Arul [S. Arutchelvan, former PSM Secretary General and current Central Committee member] has been working with communities, especially the rubber estate workers, since he was a student.

Since 2008, Arul has stood for three elections in Semenyih. The PSM branch in Semenyih has been involved in several major community initiatives including around the housing needs of plantation workers and the fight to stop the incinerator project in Broga. The Broga incinerator project was never launched and some of the plantation workers have received free houses after more than 20 years of struggle.

PSM’s community service centres have remained open over the years, even though our candidate Arul was not successful in winning the seat. The centre has received more than 1000 cases and issues to work on.

How have people responded to the PSM’s campaign in Semenyih?

We get the sense that many are not very excited about voting. This could be because of political fatigue since Malaysia’s hotly-contested general election less than a year ago.

However, Nik and PSM have been receiving a good response from local voters and communities. They recognise both PSM and Nik. Locals also like our manifesto, launched last week.

Those who are fed up with both the government and opposition are still deciding who to vote for. We are approaching these neutral voters to hopefully win their support.

We have also received a lot of support and coverage from the mainstream and alternative media, which is encouraging.

But we acknowledge there are some big challenges. For one, we are expecting a lower voter turnout, due to political fatigue and indifference. Low voter turnout generally does not bode well for candidates in a multi-challenger contest.

What does the PSM take up in its local manifesto?

We are focusing on local and national issues with seven pledges: Affordable housing for all; Upgrading the Semenyih health clinic to a hospital; Reinstating Sixth Form classes in Semenyih schools; Providing public transportation in Semenyih; Bringing back local elections in residential and municipal councils; Protecting Broga Hill by controlling the development in the area; and replacing monthly maintenance charges for low-cost flats with annual property assessment tax.