My friend Alexis Paulraj Samikannu died yesterday (22/9/21) morning. He developed chest pain at 2am, went to Teluk Intan Hospital at 3 am and passed away within 2 hours most likely due to a rhythm abnormality sparked off by the heart attack. It was sudden, and totally unexpected as he had been healthy and his normal active self the previous several days, meeting people for meals, having conversations and communicating via WhatsApp.
I first met Alex 26 years ago. The Kampung DBI struggle was at its peak and the Dewan Bandaraya Ipoh (DBI) Mayor seemed intent on evicting the families of former DBI workers who were living in their own houses within the DBI compound. Alex’s family had moved out from Kampung DBI years before, but he came to give support to the Kampung DBI residents. He became the plaintiff in the ex-parte injunction that we obtained from the High Court to restrain the DBI from demolishing the quarters. Our argument was that the demolition of the workers’ quarters would release asbestos dust that could cause cancer in the families of the retired workers living in the adjacent wooden houses. This injunction was upheld in inter-parte proceedings that lawyer G Balasundram handled pro-bono for us.
From that time Alex participated enthusiastically in many of Alaigal’s struggles to prevent eviction of urban pioneers living in houses without land grants and farmers tilling government land. He was bold and unafraid of the authorities. A natural rebel, he could not stomach the forceful eviction of poor families from their homes or farms, and he wasn’t afraid of being arrested for obstructing the authorities trying to demolish houses.
When the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) was formed a few years later he was keen to join as he agreed that we need to get into parliament and the state legislatures to push for pro-rakyat policies. Apart from partaking in local struggles and national campaigns like the GST campaign, Alex played a central role in developing the technical capacity of the PSM in handling PA Systems, video recording and editing and mass production of CDs for election purposes. He did not have much formal training in these fields, but was a self-taught “expert” who had amassed considerable practical experience in these fields, and was quite innovative.
Alex was an active member of the PSM for the past 23 years and is well known within the PSM and activist circles. But over the past 8 years he became increasingly frustrated with the PSM. He felt that the PSM has good leaders and policies but we were not promoting both of these assets strongly enough. He believed that the PSM would grow much faster if we took a principled position and openly criticized both the BN and the PH. He was critical of the parties comprising the PH as he felt they were not much different from the BN parties in the policies that they implemented wherever they took power. He wanted the PSM to contest in the general elections as a “third force” and he believed strongly that large numbers of the people would support the PSM if we took such a stand.
These views were contested by a significant number within the PSM. Some members argued that many of the items on the reform agenda are good and that the PSM should support these. Others felt that the PSM wasn’t yet strong enough to go into 3 corner contests. They argued that doing badly too many times at the polls isn’t good for the image of the party. Yet others argued that the PSM should try hard to make sure that we did not come across as arrogant and hard headed as, in the long run, we need to win over the supporters of both the BN and the PH.
Alex tended to be tenacious in his views and did not back down easily. That led to many arguments. Alex kept lobbying his point of view right up to the time he passed away. Differences in opinion within a party or any other group are a fact of life that have to be managed. In the PSM we try to give opportunities for all views to be presented and debated before a decision is taken – by means of a vote if consensus is not attained. And then we act, based on the majority decision, till the next re-assessment.
Building a political narrative that challenges and seeks to debunk the existing ethnic based political narratives that dominate the Malaysian political space is not an easy task. The party will need to review it’s strategy from time to time. Sdr Alex, each time we re-visit the issue of electoral strategy your position will be borne in mind. Thank you saudara for supporting the struggles of the PSM these past 25 years. Your presence gave us strength. As Che once said, “Anyone who trembles with indignation at every injustice is a true comrade of mine!”
Farewell saudara! The struggle for a better world will continue.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia