Malaysia: Government 'declares war', socialists fight back

Saturday, June 7, 2008 - 10:00

"The announcement by the Prime Minister of increasing the price of fuel by 78 sen and increasing diesel by RM1 added with the increase in electricity as well lifting the cap on chicken prices tantamounts to a declaration of war against the ordinary people of Malaysia", S.Arutchelvan, the secretary general of the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) declared in a June 5 statement.

Explaining the impact of the fuel price hike, S.Arutchelvan said: "Last night, thousands of motorists queued for hours to buy fuel at the old price. The scene was chaotic and resembled a nation preparing for emergency. While the Prime Minister very bravely increased the price of fuel, similar commitment was not shown when workers demanded a minimum wage act to be implemented as well as a retrenchment fund to cushion workers who may face retrenchment because of the economic crisis and world food crisis.

Public ownership and control

S.Arutchelvan argued: "Only when the people own their oil, can it be put to good use." He pointed to the example of Venezuela, as a country where "the revenue for oil is used by the Venezuelan state to give free education and health care, besides helping poor neighboring nations."

"This was only possible", he argued, "when a revolutionary Government under the leadership of Hugo Chavez with people power took over the Petrol Company and nationalized it". While Malaysia's state-run oil company, Petronas, "is nationalized but it is not in the control of the people, especially the working people".

"PSM supports any move to mobilize people power to remedy this situation", according to the statement. "We call upon all political parties and peoples movements to rise up to demand and reclaim what is ours."

The PSM have gained increasing respect as fighters for democracy and people's rights against the neoliberal policies of the National Front (BN) regime. In the March 8 general elections, the PSM became the first socialist party to win representation in parliament for over four decades, with two PSM members winning a state and national seat.

Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, the PSM activist who won a national seat, caused a major upset by defeating a senior government minister. Due to an undemocratic law that denies the PSM the right to register to run in elections under its own name, its candidates ran under the logo of the opposition People's Justice Party (PKR).

While the BN government has argued that the fuel price increase is needed to deal with the food crisis, the PSM is arguing that a key to the solution was to give farmers titles to their own land to work, according to a June 4 article posted on Malaysiakini.com. As part of a policy adopted at its 10th congress over May 30-June 1, the PSM is advocating providing land for farmers to cultivate food crops instead of profit-oriented cash crops.

Land to the farmers

S.Arutchelvan told Malaysiakini.com, "One of the problems for the poor in the context of the food crisis is the fact that the land they cultivate is temporary and developed only for profits. From time to time, these poor farmers will be evicted and they will have no avenue to cultivate subsisting agriculture and this must change."

S.Arutchelvan argued that what he predicted would be a "decade-long crisis" required "radical measures to ensure that food supply can either be cultivated by the poor or that the government can ensure that they will not suffer from supply shortages".

Other polices adopted at the congress to deal with the crisis included governmental controls over the prices of goods, the passing of a minimum wage act and the use of the organic farming system that is being successfully used in Cuba (where around 90% of Havana's food supply is grown within city-limits).

The PSM's 10th congress occurred at a time when the BN government faces its biggest ever challenge to its survival in the aftermath of its punishment by voters in the recent elections.

At the same time, the report noted: "Capitalism faces its biggest challenge — World Food crisis. It is an exciting time and it is time for change."

According to the report, the congress marked, "Ten years of uncompromising politics to uphold class politics against communal politics, to advance the working class agenda against the ruling capitalist class. Ten years of survival without legal political registration." The congress noted that since the March election victories, the party had experienced a 400% growth in membership.

Some of the key policies the PSM will fight for, which were adopted by the congress, according to a report on its website (http://parti-sosialis.org>) included: the PSM must be registered as a legal party; the government must provide permanent land title to farmers; the government must enact a minimum wage law; the opposition, which won control of various states, must execute its election manifesto; the government must stop the national service program; the government must give automatic recognition to workers' unions; and the PSM is "against the imperialist power clamping down" on "the Socialist government of Venezuela and Bolivia and PSM is against capitalism".

From GLW issue 754

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