“Humans are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.” – Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar
A clarion call to install new politics in the Malaysian context is reverberating and growing louder and louder with each passing day.
This new politics is associated with a need for young blood or youths to reshape the destiny of the nation, which is mired in a rotting political situation. The old political game is laden by negativity and goes against the interests of the masses.
How do we overcome the old politics that the public desperately wants to get rid of?
There are some crucial elements that must first be tackled. As a multiracial country, Malaysia has been overburdened with racism, orchestrated primarily by ethno-religious political parties.
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These mainstream political parties, regardless of whether they are in the so-called ‘government’ or ‘opposition’ bloc, gained momentum to speed up their agenda with the targeted fall of left political narratives in Malaysia – which has been wiped out by the ruling regimes after decades in power.
Parties like the socialist PSM are attempting to make class politics mainstream and have radically pioneered accountable and responsible measures such as ‘anti-racism oaths’.
But big players in national politics, funded by capitalists and capitalist organisations, have overshadowed their class politics.
The ethno-religious political parties repeatedly project the narrative of racial supremacy and the need to have representatives of a particular ethnicity to ensure the people are protected.
If this narrative was true, all the ethnic groups should be living a prosperous life by now, as Umno-Barisan Nasional has been in power for 62 years as a multi-ethnic coalition.
But it is the rich in these political parties and those closely affiliated parties who seem to be getting richer, while the people whom they were supposed to assist and lift from poverty remain poor, or worse, have become poorer.
What could have gone wrong?
Meanwhile, racist politics have usurped many parts of Malaysian society. From the education system to the civil service to economic policies – affirmative action policies have affected all these sectors under the pretext of benefiting a particular ethnic group.
A critical examination of affirmative action has shown that the larger Malay population (the working class especially) still live on the fringes of society and remain marginalised in nation-building. For example, in the name of development, the government working in cahoots with capitalist developers, evicted many urban pioneers during the 1990s, mainly the Malay communities.
The patronage system eventually served and mainly benefited those affiliated with the government of the day. This caused the pandemic of cronyism and nepotism – well developed during the tenure of Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his first term as Prime Minister.
Apart from this, neoliberal policies that promoted privatisation in Malaysia in the 1980s caused terrible misery, overlooking the needs of the common people.
It generated economic growth, but the price we had to pay in return was a cheap labour policy, constrained labour rights, tightened union laws and a disparity between urban and rural populations, following the paths of Thatcherism and Reaganomics.
These are several key characteristics of the old politics most of us have grown up with and it is merely the tip of the iceberg. Conversely, new politics must detach itself from these attributes in the path of overhaul rather than fine-tuning itself to serve the interests of the capitalists and elite political classes.
Here is our take on how 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. Class-based affirmative action will assist the underprivileged, the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable to finally lead a decent life.
Meritocracy and equity
Similarly, to become a nation respected in the international arena, Malaysia has to expand and provide aid and opportunities for deserving students and youths.
This can slash the growing brain drain in the nation as intelligent, creative, high-performing young people are forced to migrate to advance their intellect and talent.
Employment sectors should strive to reflect the ethnic composition in society and include the most vulnerable groups. Employment opportunities should not overlook or discriminated against people due to condition or appearance.
Government bodies and related entities should undertake initiatives to create opportunities for deserving young people and provide platforms for vulnerable communities and disabled people to realise their potential. The government must set the bar high for the private sector to be more inclusive.
The economy plays a key role in determining 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.
Fiscal and monetary policies tend to favour the haves rather than the have-nots. For instance, the income tax rate for those with over RM2m in taxable income stands at 30%, one of the lowest in Southeast Asia. It is 30% in Indonesia, 35% in Vietnam and 32% in the Philippines.
More importantly, policies have failed to a trickle-down benefit for the larger population. The Covid pandemic has exposed the fragility of the working class as their income is grossly insufficient, and the majority do not have enough savings to sustain themselves. Even before the pandemic, many would have suffered a similar fate had they faced an emergency.
A minimum wage that is not compatible with the living costs in major cities in Malaysia heightens workers’ vulnerability if the economy collapses or grinds to a standstill. The rising incidence of suicide cases was undeniable proof that the capitalist economic system has to be mitigated by higher taxes and better security for the employees.
We must acknowledge the contributions 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 lived with insufficient wages for a long time. As of today, over 700,000 people are unemployed in our country.
Remember, the shaping of our labour regulations, tariffs and taxation is carried out to cater to the demand of foreign capital as the country depends heavily on them to create local job opportunities.
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 with a sovereign currency, our only limitation in spending in the economy is inflation.
That said, many job opportunities can be created by simply investing in already running government institutions and by moving towards a green, socialised and caring economy. This is just one of the many alternatives available to us when we put people before profits.
A new government that supposedly espouses new politics must have the conviction and the political will to stand up against capitalist pressure when it implements higher taxes and wealth taxes and raises the minimum wage.
New politics should also encompass high standards of human rights values that, depressingly, are sliding in Malaysia.
With a rise in reported deaths in custody and an increase in police misconduct against the working people, the long overdue independent police complaints of misconduct commission (IPCMC) must be formed and accorded powers to check any abuse in the police force.
Non-discriminatory 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 laws that have been used to unfairly incriminate sexual minorities (Section 377 of the Penal Code, solicitation act, controlled drugs 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 uproot corrupt practices.
These characterisations of new politics are dynamic and constantly evolving.
However, the masses can refer to and further develop this guideline to hold contesting parties accountable. Is this utopian idea possible in reality? Yes! In the 1960s, the University of Malaya Students’ Union embarked on a nationwide tour with their own political manifesto. The students had drafted this manifesto and demanded that political parties acknowledge them in return for their support.
If this method was possible in the 1960s, when technology was not advanced, why not today? The youth of this nation must create the ideal world they want to live in. If the politicians fail to deliver the society that we deserve, the public should not hesitate to replace them.
Changing an individual or group of people without overhauling the system is useless and will not benefit the masses.
The ideology of the ruling class intertwined with capitalist interests has placed the working masses in a disadvantaged position throughout history.
So, the working masses – from all segments of society – must unite rather than be constrained by petty menial politics promoted by self-centred politicians and political parties who tirelessly keep the masses disunited and disenfranchised.
Ilaiya Barathi Panneerselvam and Gandipan Nantha Gopalan are from Pemuda Sosialis, the youth wing of the socialist party PSM