What has failed?

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Over the past few days, Twitter has seen a huge uptick of the hashtag #KerajaanGagal. This is unsurprising due to the abject failure of the Perikatan Nasional government in many areas including reducing the Covid-19 infection numbers, preparing an adequate amount of social assistance for those affected by the various Movement Control Orders (MCOs) and ensuring the freedoms of speech, assembly and association are safeguarded. Even after parliamentarians have been vaccinated, the Parliament is yet to convene with a new ordinance allowing the government to add on whatever new expenditure without needing to go through parliament.

However, what intrigues me is the usage of #KerajaanGagal implying that previous governments have been functional. In actual fact, no previous government of Malaysia deserves to be called a successful one. This is because none of them have addressed the root cause of the problems faced by Malaysia.

The current government’s power stems from this broken system and has been enabled by the inaction against or encouragement of the growth of exploitation within the system. Every forced eviction we see is built off of the highly biased land rights laws which takes away the voices of the pioneers who may have tended to said land or indigenous group that call it home. Every threat against exasperated tweets stems from archaic laws introduced by colonisers to uphold their claim to this land’s riches and subsequently taken advantage of by previous governments to silence dissent.

What has failed then is not just this government, it is not even every government that has ruled Malaysia for over 60 years. These are but symptoms of the disease, which is a political and economic system that is rigged to benefit the higher classes to the detriment of the lower ones. We must recognise this first and foremost so that we understand what work lies ahead of us. We must not be so naïve to think that by defeating Perikatan Nasional in the next general election all our problems will be solved. That is what we thought, myself included, three years ago in 2018.

Those days just after Pakatan Harapan had won were full of hope for a new Malaysia. Yet we have seen them fail to address specific issues satisfactorily as well. Kulasegaran as Minister of Human Resources oversaw a meagre RM 50 increase in the minimum wage and even gave the green light to Top Glove whom we now know have been mistreating their workers for decades. The draconic laws they themselves rallied against like the Sedition Act and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act were left untouched. Many disappointments remained unresolved during their tenure, cut short at 22 months by some of their own.

When the Sheraton Move happened, political allegiances were so fluid that it seemed there was a new Prime Minister every day. Politicians crossed the line so many times it was like they were playing hopscotch. Yet all the rakyat could do was watch, powerless. Everything that happened then, that is still happening now and actually even happened after GE-14 when Pakatan Harapan entertained party hoppers, was all completely legal even if all of it was a huge spit in the face of the people’s will. What is this in a supposed democracy if not an admission of a deeply flawed system?

As the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged our communities, we saw multinational corporations and banks reap billions in profit without extending enough assistance. Yet are they uniquely predatory now? Banks have been forcibly removing people from their dwellings without remorse for years. Multinationals have been exploiting cheap labour the same, in fact the very reason they are here in the first place is to minimise labour costs anyway. What happened to the years of grievances if not ignored? The fact that these corporations can choose to carry so little of the burden of the people is proof that the economic system Malaysia runs on is rotten to the core.

In fact, if we talk about labour, we can see this rot even further. A cake does not bake itself, flour does not mill itself, wheat does not grow itself in industrial volumes. At all levels of the supply chain, labour is needed to turn a raw material into a commodity to be sold. The increase in that commodity’s value comes from labour, yet those who expend labour are not usually involved in determining many aspects of the surplus value. The compensation given to them in exchange for their work itself is determined separately from them for the benefit of business owners who want to maximise the profits they enjoy completely. Is this not a perverse relationship?

This has resulted in the lack of growth of wages in Malaysia and the ever-decreasing rights enjoyed by the worker. The common worker these days can expect to work longer than their contracted hours every day without any additional compensation. Any push for higher wages to compensate for the skyrocketing cost of living is met with the threat of being replaced by an eager worker currently unemployed. The fact is that the underemployment and unemployment pool in Malaysia is so large that the demand for workers is miniscule compared to the supply. As such, companies hold a significant advantage over the common man in determining the fruits of their labour.

So, when we talk about a failed government, we must be mindful that what has failed is the system, who it has failed is the common worker and why it has failed is to uphold the supremacy of capital holders. In that sense, one can even say that the system has not failed, just that the system was not designed for the common folk and what we are experiencing now is not a result of failure but of massive success. Hence, if we are aggrieved by that result, it does not do to reform the system in question, rather we must overhaul it, replace it even with a system that is designed to work for the right people.

How would one such system look? We have to think about how we are politically powerless against the individual actions of parliamentarians post-election. We must recognise that mechanisms such as recall elections must be implemented. The bourgeoise political system of Malaysia which introduces democratic participation (voting) once every 5 years is alienating the masses. Rather we must look to overhaul it to get as many people at the grassroots significantly involved in politics. For this, we can look towards a system where local councils are formed in areas where all residents gather in mass meetings to decide their representative. In fact, we can go even further by allowing them to determine the candidates for local, regional, state and national elections. A system that works wonders, in fact, in such countries as Cuba and Vietnam.

With regards to the economy, we have to shift our economy’s dependency on multinational private firms to those commonly owned by the people. From corporations to cooperatives, in a sense. Workers must be convened into self-governing units and allowed to determine how they would like to work and what to do with the profits that their labour generates. As the beginning of this idea, we must push for a federal Jobs Guarantee Scheme which will pull the government away from having to please corporate bigwigs to sustain the economy towards a self-sustaining future. Such a system can exist, it is just a matter of focusing on its implementation.

Without a doubt, this government has failed and must be removed. Crawling in through the backdoor they are but pests. However, let us not be under the false impression that just by exterminating these pests, we would chart the course for a better Malaysia automatically. Our foundations are deeply rotten and we must focus on rebuilding them.

Arveent Kathirtchelvan

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