By Arveent Kathirtchelvan
The rise of Perikatan Nasional has shown us how fragile electoral politics is in Malaysia. In less than 2 years, we have gone from the euphoria of kicking out UMNO-BN, to seeing all of the usual suspects return, coupled with an even more extremely polarising PAS who openly spew racial and religious bigotry. These are dark days indeed.
However, it is to be noted that many groups are mobilising to stand against the backdoor PN government as their rule did not receive the proper mandate of the rakyat. I’m happy that the awareness for democracy has not dimmed and seems to be back in full force after the heydays of Bersih rallies.
This happiness aside, there is a need for us to re-examine how we understand democracy. At the moment, it seems the times we come together to defend democracy and democratic practices is during rallies to defend electoral policies. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, I believe we need to think bigger.
People’s needs do not wait for elections nor do they get solved through begging politicians. At the ground, there is a real need to organise affected individuals into united fronts that may be resilient against political upheavals. For example, we need strong workers’ unions so that labour laws, minimum wage and similar issues can be resolved through the political weightage associated with the strength of these unions. Until we can achieve this high-level of mass organisation, we will still be plagued with hoping for the benevolence and honesty of politicians.
On top of this, there needs to be a focus in bringing out, campaigning for and working together with candidates with proven track records. For this, there must be persistent and continued groundwork done in electoral areas. Unfortunately, the odds of disparate protests, write-ups, Twitter threads and the like do not go very far in shifting the bedrock of how politics is done, especially when up against the massive political machinery of established political parties.
A lot of people look at PSM and accuse us of being small and insignificant. When you don’t have millions of ringgit because you refuse donations from big corporates to keep yourself on the side of the rakyat, the resources you can call upon remain limited. Still we keep on organising the people, case-by-case, area by area. In the end, there’s never going to be enough money, so the only resource we can call upon are people. Activists and organisers in the struggle of the people are our only hope to gaining mainstream appeal. And mainstream appeal is not to serve political ambitions, it is to make mainstream people-centric policies.
So, I look at the huge number of protesters against the violation of the rakyat’s voice in the establishment of Perikatan Nasional, and I can’t help but appeal to you. We need to move many people, millions of people, both within and without electoral politics. For that, we must move together. I understand that there are differences between us, distrust, suspicion, even annoyance is present, that much is clear. But now we need to leave those differences aside and come together to empower the people.
We need boots on the ground, setting-up complaints booths to collect cases from people, activists to take up these cases, organising affected individuals around their issues and finally, taking it up with those in charge. From the streets to courthouses, we need established supply chains of people bringing justice to the masses. After these issues are solved, we need consistent follow-ups with those we have organised, having additional sessions so that these new people join our cause in liberating others.
This is the dirty, messy reality of building mass political movements. Our ideological differences, petty squabbles, even delusions of being ‘non-partisan’ need to be re-examined. What good is being non-partisan when it alienates those who are with us in the struggle consistently? We must be able to recognise our allies, our friends. We might not like them all, but so long as they are consistently committed to the cause, we must work together, whether they are political parties, NGOs or individuals.
Let us not be so willing to sacrifice fundamental, people-oriented movement due to petty issues. We need to unite the marhain. We need to solve the problems of the rakyat. Enough factionalism, please, I am not ashamed to implore. We are fighting the same battle, let us move as one.