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Wrong advice, Mahathir; tell your ministers to be more socialist

Photograph: Sumisha Naidu/CNA

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Barathi Selvam says Mahathir’s recent advice to some leaders in his administration to change their socialist way of thinking was misplaced.

“I always believed the mind is the best weapon” – John Rambo, First Blood

The old wise man of the new Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has displayed yet another old trait of his – running down the left.

Back in 1987, under his administration, most of the left or socialists were swept up by the infamous Operation Lalang crackdown under the Internal Security Act. Clearly, the rejuvenated left ideology seems to be a spectre that still haunts him.

After his criticism of Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders, whom he regards as exhibiting socialist principles, I quickly did an online search of the term socialism once again. My hunch wasn’t wrong.

On 1 March ie the eve of the Semenyih by-election, I was sitting in a mamak shop at night with a group of friends discussing (membawang) the upcoming contest.

The by-election pitted two reluctant debaters – Muhammad Aiman Zainali of PH and Zakaria Hanafi of Barisan Nasional (BN) – independent candidate Kuan Chee Heng (popularly known as Uncle Kentang) and the young and articulate Nik Aziz Afiq from the Socialist Party of Malaysia.

As our conversation wore on, I heard in my mind the voice of Sylvester Stallone arguing with army personnel about the best weapon available. It is the mind, according to Rambo.

By then, I was already perturbed with Mahathir’s comment, which coincided with the run-up to the by-election, and I wondered what sort of mind games were at play.

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It was confusing because there are two possible interpretations: PH leaders are carrying socialist principles and implementing them, and/or socialism is not viable for Malaysia.

Whichever, I beg to differ.

First, the last thing on earth I would say of PH leaders is that they are socialist in their mindset. Wellfare-oriented, maybe. But no, it is not socialism at all.

Let me cite a couple of examples. A few months after the minimum wage was increased from a ridiculous RM1,050 to RM1,100 (still ridiculous), Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran mentioned that the minimum wage has to be reviewed because it is hurting businesses ie the capitalist class.

Recall that the Malaysian Trades Union Congress and the Socialist Party had recommended a minimum wage of RM1,800 and RM1,500 respectively.

Bank Negara had stated that anything below RM2,700 was inadequate as a living wage.

Echoing similar concerns, Khazanah Research Institute pointed out in their report that “households earning RM2,000 may have only RM76 left after their expenses”.

You do the maths to see what the situation would be like with a minimum wage of RM1,100.

In the end, the new government in the New Malaysia adopted the employers’ suggestion, thus illustrating its pro-capitalist mentality – rather than socialist, as Mahathir would have us believe.

Last month, both the health minister and the finance minister dramatically labelled their new health insurance scheme, MySalam, a policy of human empathy which guarantees an opportunity for the poor to receive better healthcare – in other words, boosting private business (ie private hospitals and private insurance).

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Former Sungai Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj has consistently criticised and questioned the implicit intentions of such a scheme, which benefits rich private hospitals and a large insurance firm rather than the majority poor.

In a recent press statement, the socialist doctor reminded Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng that “only 10% of the specialists with more than 10 years of experience post- specialisation are currently still in government service, whilst 90% of these experienced doctors are in the private sector”.

He further noted with frustration that 70% of the admissions in the country are to government hospitals, which often have long queues and longer waiting hours.

Instead of boosting the public healthcare system, the government of the day shook hands with a large insurance company to boost the profits of profit-motivated private hospitals.

It reminds me of Mahathir’s privatisation policies back in the 1980s. Once again, this kind of thinking reflects a capitalist mindset. It is not even close to socialism.

That said, I am not even going to discuss the plan for a third national car or flying cars. Honestly, I get goosebumps when I think we could all be part of a real-life Star Wars movie. (A little note: the government deferred certain public transport mega projects, blaming current economic conditions.)

Capitalism is failing and severely wrecking the planet. From global warming, wars and famine, the list goes on.

Socialism is not the taboo propagated by certain western blocs. Socialism calls for social equality, social equity, justice and a redistribution of wealth so that the rich won’t get richer and the poor won’t become poorer.

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Our present system needs a complete overhaul, but the current government is reluctant because of its age-old mentality that is stuck in the old Malaysia of neoliberal policies.

The new Malaysia needs a new system – a system that doesn’t marginalise, oppress and exploit the 99%.

So dear Mahathir, please advise your administration to be more socialist in its orientation.

Barathi Selvam is disturbed by the social injustices he sees around him and uses writing as a medium to advocate for those who are discriminated and oppressed.

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