Malaysia

Tian Chua addressing Merdeka (independence) celebration in Sydney on September 1

Back in 1999, Tian Chua was one of the leaders of the Reformasi movement in Malaysia who was arrested and beaten up after mass protests against then National Front government of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

But today he is vice-president of the Peoples Justice Party (PKR), the largest party in the new Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan) government whose PM is the same Mahathir.

During a recent speaking tour of Australia, which coincided with Malaysian Independence Day celebrations, Tian Chua spoke about his new relationship with his former jailer.

The former British colony of Malaya (now Malaysia) gained its independence on August 31, 1957. However, this was based on a deal by the Malay elites represented by the conservative United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) and Chinese and Indian capitalist classes with British colonialism. This deal preserved the privileges of the Malay elite.

Ten years earlier in 1947, a different vision of independence based on popular democratic participation and multi-ethnic solidarity came together in the “People’s Constitution”.

Malaysia’s May 9 general elections caused a shock upset, with the Barisan Nasional (BN) losing control of the government for the first time since independence in 1957. This was a historic win for the opposition against the corrupt, authoritarian ruling party.

With general elections likely to be held in May, the left and democratic forces in Malaysia are discussing how to respond.

With the release of the full text of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on February 21, activists in the 11 signatory countries finally got to see if their worst fears of a corporate power grab would be confirmed.

Unfortunately, they mostly were.

Riding the crest of a powerful Bersih (“clean”) democracy movement in the streets, Malaysia’s Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) opposition alliance won 53% of the popular vote in the 2013 general election. Gerrymandered electorates, however, ensured they took only 40% of the seats.

Yet as a new general election approaches, likely early next year, the incumbent Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN) government looks set to easily hold on the power.

Five Orang Asli (indigenous) activists from Gua Musang in Malaysia who were blockading forests from illegal logging operations were arrested on January 23.

Forestry officials from the state of Kelantan — which is governed by the opposition Islamic Party (PAS) — destroyed several Orang Asli blockades. This was despite the fact that on January 17 a magistrate court had cancelled the application by the logging company concerned and declared that Orang Asli have rights over their customary native land.

The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) Socialism 2016 conference, held over November 25-27, featured solidarity with Maria Chin, chairperson of the Bersih anti-government movement who was being held in solitary confinement under the anti-democratic Security Operations Special Measures Act.

A special candle light vigil was held before the solidarity night which opened the conference. Chin was released on November 28 after 10 days in detention.

The Bersih 5.0 demonstration for clean elections and against corruption in Malaysia made a huge splash on November 19 despite threats of serious repression. The night before the demonstration, at least 10 prominent figures (including key organisers of the rally) were arrested.

The Bersih 5.0 demonstration for clean elections in Malaysia made a huge splash despite threats of serious repression. The night before the demonstration at least ten prominent figures (including key organisers of the rally) were arrested.

The leadup to the Bersih 5.0 was also characterised by threats of violence from the pro-government Red Shirts. Although nominally independent, the government was clearly turning a blind eye to these threats. Some figures associated with the Najib regime were also promising to march with the Red Shirts.

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