A new political culture for Malaysia

A few people have asked me what I meant when, at the Press Conference announcing the
electoral collaboration between PSM and MUDA on 15/8/23, I said that PSM and MUDA would
try to introduce a new political culture in Malaysia. With the State Elections just around the
corner and the rising political temperature, this is a good time to delineate the main features of
this new political culture that PSM is trying to promote.

The first aspect is a commitment to not manipulate the voters by preying on their fears and
anxieties in order to win votes. Sadly, this is currently being done by both the major coalitions.
The Perikatan Nasional’s main argument is that PH/DAP is trying to undermine the position of
Malays and of Islam in Malaysia. PN propagandists argue that it is of paramount importance
that Malays vote the PN to safeguard their race and religion. On the flip side, Pakatan Harapan
is hyping up the “Green Tide” that, according to the PH, is threatening to “Talabinise” Malaysia.
So, according to PH propagandists, it is crucially important to ensure that people vote PH and its
ally, the BN.

Both coalitions – PN and PH-BN – demonize the other, creating fear and misconceptions, driving
their followers further and further apart, leaving wounds in our national psyche – wounds that
will not quietly disappear after electoral politicking ends on 12/8/2023.

The main narratives promoted by both the PN and the PH are creating a toxic political culture
which is intensifying inter-ethnic tensions. There is a significant risk that this strategy can spiral
out of control and lead to civil strife. PSM requires all its candidates to take an oath abstain
from using ethnic flavoured arguments in their campaigns. As politicians, we have the
responsibility to enhance inter-ethnic communication and harmony. We must be sensitive to
the problems faced by the different communities in our society and formulate policies and
programs to overcome these. We need to reach out and care for the “other”.

Inter-ethnic cooperation can be promoted by focusing on programs that are beneficial to
ordinary Malaysians from all ethnic backgrounds, for example, a social protection net for all,
rehabilitating the environment, strengthening our health care system, assuring employment for
all those who wish to work, etc. Working together on these issues will provide opportunities to
understand each other better and promote a dialogue on these, and other issues facing the

The second major aspect of this new political culture is linked to the first. We need to develop a
full and correct understanding of the nature of the problems facing the country. We are a

relatively small country in a globalized capitalist economy dominated by big companies that
bully smaller companies as well as governments. This has led to massive wage suppression in
Malaysia and the rest of the Third World. Increases in worker productivity over the past 50
years have led to massive profits for the companies at the apex of the global supply chains
while many SMEs in the middle rungs of the supply chain struggle to keep solvent, and the real
incomes of workers and small farmers has remained dismally low. (Real = inflation adjusted)
People are submerged in debt and many are resentful that the system isn’t working for them.
Governments struggle to collect revenue, as the biggest owners of capital have the option of
moving their financial resources to more “business-friendly” countries. The Malaysian
government revenue has decreased progressively from about 30% of GDP in the 1980s to its
current 15% as the government has progressively reduced corporate taxes in an effort to retain
capital within the country. The resulting fiscal constraints make it difficult for the Malaysian
government to commit to expanding social protection or take bolder steps to transition to
green energy and mitigate climate change.

These realities have to be acknowledged, and realistic strategies for working within them in the
short run, and overcoming them in the longer run, have to be formulated. It is definitely not
sufficient to assume that everything will be resolved if we reduce corruption – though that is an
important and necessary goal. It is similarly erroneous to assume that everything will be
resolved if our political leaders are more pious. Yes, we do need honest and incorruptible
politicians, but they must have a proper understanding of the complex world we live in and
have a set of comprehensive and internally consistent policies even before they assume office.

PSM is building a coherent set of policies to address the major economic problems that
Malaysia is facing. We are doing this in consultation with civil society organisations, activists,
academicians and others. We believe that the problems that Malaysia faces, while significant
and in many ways complex, are definitely not insurmountable. But they need well thought out
and realistic strategies to be tackled. We intend to contribute to the building of a political
movement that is well versed in these strategies.

The third aspect of this new political culture is a commitment to ensure that democracy is not
subverted by the rich and powerful. This has already taken place in many of the “democracies”
all over the world. Large corporations have too much influence over democratically elected
leaders. Our political movement has to accept the reality that for the intermediate term (10 to
30 years), the best that can be hoped for in many countries around the world, is to have a
government of committed socialists managing a nation that is integrated into the global
capitalist economy.

One of our major concerns of our movement should be to ensure that there isn’t “corporate
capture” of our political leaders. The following are some of the measures we need to put in

  • Public funding of political parties and caps on the funds that can be given by
    corporations or rich individuals.
  • Annual asset declarations by politicians who hold office.
  • Laws that provide for the investigation and prosecution of politicians who amass more
    wealth than can be explained by their official income.
  • Creation of more check-and-balance mechanisms within our administration. For
    example the power to alienate state land is currently over-concentrated in the person of
    the Chief Minister. There should be legislation that sets up an independent committee
    to oversee land alienation. This committee should have the power to pause any
    particular decision to alienate, until it is discussed and voted upon in the legislative
  • Term limits of 10 years for Chief Ministers and Prime Ministers.
  • A requirement that aspiring candidates for parliamentary office agree to submit to
    monitoring by an over-sight committee within the party with regards to his/her wealth
    We need to move away from the current semi-feudal political culture where the leader is the
    boss who distributes the “goodies” – favours, contracts and handouts – and who cannot be
    questioned by his/her subordinates or constituents, to a culture where the political leader is a
    friend, a teacher and most importantly, an enabler who builds the capacity of the ordinary
    people to understand their situation and empowers them to play an active role in making their
    lives better. We are in the process of gathering and building leaders who do not see politics as a
    stepping stone to personal wealth, but as an opportunity to serve the people and the nation.

Jeyakumar Devaraj
PSM Chairperson

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