“Humans are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.” Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
A clarion call to install new politics in the Malaysian context is reverberating louder and louder each passing day. This new politics is generally associated with a need for young blood or youngsters to overturn the destiny of the nation’s rotting political situation. We believe the old political game is laden by negativity and goes against the interests of mass society.
How do we overcome the old politics that the public desperately wants to get rid of?
There are some crucial elements that first and foremost must be addressed. Being a multi-racial country, Malaysians have been overburdened with racism orchestrated primarily by ethno-religious political parties. These mainstream political parties, regardless of whether they are in the so-called ‘government’ or ‘opposition’ bloc’ gained momentum to accelerate their agenda with the fall of left political narratives in Malaysia which were targeted and wiped out by the ruling regimes for decades.
Though parties like Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) are attempting to make class politics mainstream, and radically pioneered accountable and responsible measures such as ‘anti-racism oaths’, their class politics have been overshadowed by big players in national politics funded by capitalists and capitalist organisations. Hence, the ethno-religious political parties repeatedly project the narrative of racial supremacy, the need to have representatives of a particular ethnicity, etc to ensure the people of Malaysia are protected. If this narrative were true, all the ethnic groups should have been living a prosperous life by now as UMNO-BN had been in power for 62 years as a multi-ethnic coalition.
Nevertheless, the rich in these political parties and those closely affiliated parties seem to be getting richer, while the people whom they were supposed to assist and lift from poverty remain poor, or worse, getting poorer. What could have gone wrong?
Simultaneously, racist politics have usurped many parts of Malaysian society. From the educational system to civil services to economic policies – these were all affected by affirmative action policies under the pretext of benefiting a particular ethnic group.
Critical examination of affirmative action has shown that the larger Malay population (the working class especially) are still living on the fringes of society and were also marginalised in the course of nation building. For example, in the name of development, many urban pioneers during the ‘90s, predominantly the Malay communities, were forcefully evicted by the government in cahoots with the capitalist developers.
The patronage system eventually served and benefited those affiliated with the government of the day, primarily. This caused the pandemic of cronyism and nepotism – well developed during the tenure of Tun Dr. Mahathir in his first term as Prime Minister.
Apart from this, neoliberal policies that allowed for the rise of privatisation in Malaysia in the ‘80s caused terrible misery, overlooking the needs of the common people. Though we may agree it expanded the economy of the nation, the price we had to pay in return is a cheap labour policy, constrained labour rights, tightened union laws and disparity between urban and rural population, following the paths of Thatcherism and Reaganomics.
Now, these are several characteristics of the old politics most of us have grown up with. These are merely the tip of the iceberg but, they comprise the most important elements. Conversely, a new politics must detach itself from these attributes in the path of overhaul rather than fine-tuning itself in the interests of the capitalist and political classes.
Here is our take on how a new politics should look like, socially, politically and economically:
Instead of awarding or promulgating policies along ethnic lines, the new politics should courageously construct policies that serve everyone in need irrespective of any differences. A class-based affirmative action will certainly assist the underprivileged, poor, marginalised and vulnerable people to finally lead a decent life.
Meritocracy & Equity
Similar to the idea above, to become a nation respected in the international arena, Malaysia has to expand and provide necessary assistance and opportunities for deserving students and youngsters. This can seriously reduce the rising brain-drain in the nation as intelligent, creative, high performing youngsters are forced to migrate to foreign countries to advance their intellect and talent. Almost all employment sectors must be proportionate to the ethnic composition in society, this including the most vulnerable groups. One should not be overlooked or discriminated against from employment opportunities due to their condition or appearance. The initiatives in creating opportunities for well-deserving young people and providing platforms for vulnerable communities and disabled people must primarily be done by government bodies and entities. The government must set the bar high for the private sector to be more inclusive.
The economy, like it or not, plays a vital role in deciding the path of our nation. It shapes the approach of the ruling regime, from deciding whether to increase the minimum wage or to introduce taxes. Currently the chargeable income tax rate over RM 2 million in Malaysia stands at 30%, one of the lowest in Southeast Asia. For Indonesia it is 30%, Vietnam 35%, Philippines 32%.
Yet, in contrast we have failed to see a trickle-down effect that benefits the larger population. The Covid-19 pandemic has blatantly exposed the fragility of the working class as their income is extremely insufficient, so they don’t possess proper savings for them to sustain themselves. Even before the pandemic, they would suffer similarly facing any emergency.
A minimum wage that is not compatible with the living costs in major cities in Malaysia shows the vulnerability one is exposed to if the economy collapses or comes to a standstill. The increasing death rates due to suicides were undeniable proof that the capitalist mould of the economic system has to be leveraged with higher taxes and better security for the employees.
We must acknowledge the contribution of the working class (this includes anyone exchanging their labour for wages) in making the rich richer. The working class, particularly the lower working class have been living with insufficient wages for a long time. As of today, more than 700,000 are unemployed in our country. We must remember that shaping our labour regulations, tariffs and taxations are done to cater the demand of foreign capital as our country is heavily depending on them to create the job opportunities here in our country.
We need a radical shift in how we view the economy. It is time to introduce a Federal Jobs Guarantee Scheme. As a sovereign country which has sovereign currency, our only limitation to spend in the economy is inflation. With that being said, many job opportunities can be created by just investing in already running government institutions and by pushing towards a green, socialised and caring economy. This is just one of many alternatives that are available to us when we put people first over profit.
Hence a new government supposedly espousing new politics must have the conviction and political will to stand against the capital pressures to implement higher taxes, wealth taxes and also to increase the minimum wage.
A new politics should also encompass high standards of human rights values that are depressingly deteriorating in Malaysia.
With the rise in death in custody cases being reported and an increase in police misconduct against the working people, the long overdue Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) must be implemented without watering down the nature of being an independent body that oversees the police force.
Non-discrimination policies must be implemented. Minority rights including vulnerable people such as the LGBT community, sex workers, undocumented people and disabled people must be protected and treated with humanity. Current legislation that have been proven to unfairly incriminate sexual minorities (Section 377 of the penal code, solicitation act, controlled drug act) must be amended or abolished.
Democratic institutions should be strengthened and the third-vote (local government elections) must be returned to the people.
A right to recall underperforming political leaders or those who violated the values of new politics must be also implemented to ensure corruption and corruptible practices are uprooted.
These characterisations of new politics are dynamic and constantly evolving. However, this guideline can be referred to and further developed by the masses to hold the contesting parties accountable. Is this utopian idea possible in reality? Yes! In the ‘60s, Universiti Malaya Students’ Union (UMSU) went on a nationwide tour with their own political manifesto. This manifesto was nevertheless drafted by the students and demanded the political parties to acknowledge them in return for their support. If this method was possible in the ‘60s where technology was not very advanced – why not today? The young bloods of this nation must create the ideal world they would want to live in. If the politicians fail to deliver a society that we deserve, the public should not hesitate to replace them.
We strongly believe that changing an individual or group of people without overhauling the system is useless and non-beneficial to the masses. The ideology of the ruling class intertwined with capitalist interests has massively put the working masses in a disadvantaged position throughout the course of history. Therefore, the working masses – from all segments of society – must unite rather than be constrained by petty menial politics eschewed by the self-centred politicians and political parties who tirelessly keep the masses disunited and disenfranchised.
Ilaiya Barathi Panneerselvam
Gandipan Nantha Gopalan
Parti Sosialis Malaysia