By Arveent Kathirtchelvan
I am concerned at the recent rhetorical back and forth between Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional and Perikatan Nasional. There seems to be a lack of understanding of the core issues to tackle, which form the base of concern for most Malaysians.
Particularly disappointing is PH-BN, not because PN have been saints. Far from it, PN has only increased their caustic rhetoric, with Mahathir’s daily racist Twitter threads denigrating non-Malay-Muslims and PN-affiliated influencers such as Papagomo’s Tiktok videos with similar rhetoric. The issue becomes the response from PH-BN has been disproportionately focused on personal attacks and denigrating PN. Sanusi is called loqlak, 3R issues are repeated and Perikatan as a whole are termed failed governments in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu
Of course, not all criticisms are unfair. PN’s dismal run as Federal Government and water supply issues in Kelantan deserve to be discussed. But the main soundbites are those that demonise. On top of these are the loyal cybertroopers of PH-BN engaging in classist rhetoric against certain PN candidates and denigrating PN voters even further. This politics of segregation will not bear fruit.
The Class Analysis
The reality in Malaysia, as we in PSM have pointed out time and again, is ordinary Malaysians face oppression on a daily basis. The suppression of wages coupled with rising cost of living, particularly within the housing sector, breeds deep frustration within ordinary Malaysians. The inability to do anything about it, due to crackdowns against unions and separation from policy makers, has alienated common Malaysians. We are all searching, whether consciously or not, for a way out of our predicament.
Perikatan then comes to usurp this situation, offering both a false diagnosis and solution. They say that it is Malay-Muslims who uniquely suffer economic distress and the reason is that non-Malay-Muslims have taken over the rightful position of Malay-Muslims. The only solution, then, is to focus on empowering only the Malay-Muslims to take over from the non-Malay-Muslims. This politics of segregation only works because it is built on the base of pain, confusion and alienation caused by capitalist influences common to third-world countries.
When we understand this, then we see the PN voter not as a racist, someone who cannot or choose not to see their failures, but someone trying to find a way out. Not very different from any other voter, but to whom the only sensible analysis provided was from PN. Whose fault is that if not us supposed progressives? But PH in their rhetoric have painted PN as being such a terrible coalition that even their voters feel as if it is a personal judgement on them. “PN voters should know better than to vote these people” PH seem to say, yet for the PN voter who is hungry and can’t make ends meet, where is the counternarrative to PN’s diagnosis?
A Different Sanusi
The Green Wave is used as a political ploy as there is only surface-level rhetoric being sold, particularly to non-Malay-Muslims. “Strengthen Pakatan to shield against the Green Wave” is the common message. But is there any sincere engagement with the economic base or class antagonism on which this rhetoric thrives? Not from PH-BN. However, download TikTok and you are served instantly with videos of Sanusi.
In those videos we see a different Sanusi. Not loud-mouthed or uncouth, far from the inane ravings of Mahathir on Twitter. Amongst the most popular videos of him are of him tearing up in the Kedah Legislative Assembly talking about a single mother he is assisting. He is talking about bringing economic spillover from the west coast of Kedah into the centre to benefit the poor people there. This is what is fueling the PN narrative. The pain of the Marhaen is used by PAS to legitimize its ethnocentrism. Sanusi says those in the centre of Kedah eastward are Malays, after all.
Funnily enough, when talking in Penang, Sanusi drops the racial focus and picks up on the extremely high prices of houses in Penang Island forcing Penangites to move to parts of Kedah. It is clear that this is a political narrative alone, but it is consistent with the base PN is building its narrative on and it serves as plausible deniability for their more segregationary rhetoric. All of this is why PH-BN’s surface-level attacks or even exposing scandals (a valid and legitimate thing to do) will not work to pull PN voters. They do not feel seen!
An Effective Counternarrative
This is why, when asked in a recent forum what PSM thinks about the Green Wave, I said we are concerned and we believe an effective counter-narrative is the class analysis. We emblazon ourselves with the tagline “Pilih Suara Marhaen” as a rallying call for all of us to unite in solidarity to uplift ourselves against our oppressors. This cuts across race, religion, gender, sexuality and anything else used to divide us. If we are talking about the Green Wave, I also have to point out valid criticism that we must also seriously consider the essence of the MA63 in its approach on freedom of religion. I too should learn more on this but realising the spirit of the treaty that binds Malaysia can take us far.
PSM believes in the class approach. We recognize the legitimacy of workers who create all the riches that we see in Malaysia. We recognize the dignity all human beings should deserve to live with. We reject completely the politics of separation used by Perikatan Nasional. But, further than that, we understand why it is appealing. This is why we believe our narrative is relatable not just by PH voters, supposed progressives, but PN voters too. This is why we can safely reject all of the compromises PH have had to do, such as on the Sedition Act, because we believe we do not have to play that kind of political game.
To unite us all takes courage to recognize the economic base with which Malaysians move to vote. Enough division, it is time to unite.
Arveent Kathirtchelvan is the Chief of the Pemuda Sosialis, Parti Sosialis Malaysia