Lessons for the opposition post-Johor

By now it should be clear how I feel about electoral politics. Yet, the articles I have read coming from the opposition moves me to pen my thoughts as well. I am concerned with the calls for simply performative change. There are calls for Anwar Ibrahim to step down, there are calls for younger leaders to take over, there are calls for PKR to be discarded in favour of a different opposition line-up. I support none of these calls, not because I am enamoured by PKR, their class characteristics being clearly in the pockets of billionaires, but because superficial changes like this are not going to help.

It is clear in Johor that a large percentage of people, perhaps even the majority, are apathetic. This can be seen by the shockingly low voter turnout. They are not inspired enough to come out to vote. Some opposition leaders see this as a fault of the voters. Some have chastised voters for not turning up, implying that their inaction caused BN to win its supermajority. This is childish behaviour. Everyone has the right to vote and not vote. It is the job of those running to convince people to turn up and choose them. This is a failure of political parties, mine included.

To rectify this, I do not believe a simple change in the faces that run is enough. Politics itself, especially in the opposition, must change. The performative stances, new faces, fresh rhetoric are all still playing the same game as Barisan Nasional. We must remember BN has had 60 years of indoctrination on their side. They are there on the ground in the urban areas and rural areas convincing people to vote for them based on rhetoric. Like it or not, playing the same game as BN will only result in losses due to their lengthy experience. The most that can be achieved is a pyrrhic victory that is short-lived, much like the 2018 gamble that decayed in 2020.

The opposition must shift left. They must champion issues affecting the common Malaysian. Rising cost of living, lack of jobs, inadequate housing and public transportation must make up the core of their struggle. Enough with the “Vote for me because I am not BN” narrative, it is overplayed and hollow. The opposition should not only talk about these issues, though, it must act. As we can see, even with minimal turnout, BN can win supermajorities. This means the electoral system is faulty. To keep hoping it will work out in the opposition’s favour is naïve. It happened in 2018 but we can see how short-lived that was.

What’s more, not only has gerrymandering and the first-past-the-post system enabled parties to win supermajorities even when they dot not have a majority of the popular vote, those elected can also freely do what they please for their term without any oversight by their voters. This can be seen with the number of politicians hopping parties and reneging on election promises. The masses are alienated from demanding their representatives toe their line, showing how weak liberal democracy is. We must move towards a system that directly empowers the masses.

The mainstream opposition must organise the masses on the ground. They must start unions, organise protests, educate the masses on their rights not just about elections and build dual power. With enough mass organisation, they can be confident in receiving the required number of votes. Even if they do not win as many seats, the strength of these organisations will be enough to demand for much needed reforms from the ruling class. This is democracy, not just centred on elections, but direct action through mobilising the masses.

We at PSM do this tirelessly. From supporting the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services to winning houses for plantation workers with the Jawatankuasa Sokongan Masyarakat Ladang. We believe the mainstream opposition can expand this work exponentially especially with the amount of manpower, capital and resources at their disposal. Sadly, they largely do not do this kind of work. In fact, as one Twitter user proudly stated, they hold 3 state governments, Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. Yet in all these states, PSM has had to fight against the state government as it was oppressing the marhaen on various isssues. This cannot continue.

The mainstream opposition parties should, in fact, be ashamed that they engage in such vile behaviour, that PSM is more successful in organising the masses, fighting for and achieving betterment for workers, OKU, Orang Asli and the oppressed, than they are even with our limited resources. For this, I invite the mainstream opposition party members, within Pakatan Harapan and their allies, to denounce this and move away from oppressing the marhaen to organising them. BN cannot be beaten by a coalition of oppressors, BN cannot be beaten by politicians that talk but don’t do, BN cannot be beaten through elections alone. The masses must be educated, agitated and organised to properly counter BN’s narrative and capital influence.

Do not take this to mean assimilate PSM into Pakatan Harapan, though. Please stop thinking other people can do your job for you. The same thought process led you to rehabilitate Mahathir to get you Malay votes. Perhaps PH is doing the same with youth votes through MUDA. There must be a strong culture of class analysis within all opposition parties and concerted effort to go to the ground and organise everywhere. The struggle of politics is not within august halls, it is in the paddy fields and factories. The marhaen need you. If you build their power, they will build you. Do not turn your back on them.

The 15th General Election may be called soon. I honestly do not have faith that you can change in time. But if you can come together and show that you are ready to not just engage in politics, but change politics itself, from ineffectual voting every 5 years to actually building dual power, you can sell that narrative to revive the people’s faith in change. Tell them you will build unions, tell them you will organise low-cost housing residents, tell them the precariat will be organised. Then, with your resources, mobilise your members to execute these aspirations on the ground. The masses will be with you.

Keep on your course of hoping your corporate backers will bail you out, though, to resign yourself to failure. PSM will still be here to organise the masses anyway.

Arveent Kathirtchelvan
Chief of the Socialist Youth,
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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