THE OPPOSITION ALLIANCE, PAKATAN RAKYAT (PEOPLE’S ALLIANCE), GAINED THE MOST VOTES AND PLANS TO EXPOSE THE ELECTION FRAUD AND CLAIM VICTORY. A NEW WAVE OF STRUGGLES FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS COULD EMERGE.
Barisan Nasional - the ‘National Front’ coalition - has governed Malaysia for all of the 56 years since independence from British rule. Once again in the 13th general election, held on 5th May, it claims to have won outright the federal power. This is partly due to the first-past-the-post voting system but also to blatant gerrymandering and vote-rigging as well as an Election Commission that favours the ruling coalition.
The day after the election, share prices of government-linked companies and others closed at ‘historic highs’. This showed that the capitalist class was relieved that the BN had retained power rather than an untested government of Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coming in. The pro-capitalist policies that have all this while been favouring big businesses would continue. The malpractices and irregularities in the elections showed the desperate attempts by BN to safeguard its crony capitalism as well as to prevent many of its scandals and corruptions being investigated by a new government of PR.
Regardless of the rigging and election ‘goodies’ worth billions of ringgits being distributed by the ruling government, PR still managed to do better than at the last general election in 2008. The ‘political Tsunami’ of that year dramatically changed the political climate in Malaysia; for the first time since 1969, the opposition denied the BN a two-thirds majority in parliament. It also won power in some states including the richest two - Selangor and Penang.
This is the worst election result for the BN in Malaysian history. It got fewer votes overall than the opposition but got 60% of the seats. This was mainly due to the first-past-the-post voting system that has even been ‘renovated’ to be advantageous to the BN. Out of the 222 seats in the federal parliament, Barisan Nasional (BN) won a simple majority with 133. It is a coalition of racially-orientated parties - of UMNO (United Malay National Organisation), MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) and others. The opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), won 89 seats in what was the most closely fought general election. PR is composed of the PKR (People’s Justice Party), DAP (Democratic Action Party) and PAS (Malaysian Islamic Party). In this election it won 7 more parliamentary seats than last time. The opposition also won more state seats than during the last election - 230 seats out of 505 – but lost the state of Kedah.
For the first time since 1969, the opposition coalition managed to gain the most popular votes - 51% compared to the BN’s 47 % - with one of the best voter turnouts of 84.8% of 13.3 million voters. There were big swings towards the opposition from urban populations where Chinese are in a majority or in significant numbers. There the DAP managed to gain more seats for PR. This shows the growing anger in urban areas over government corruption, scandals etc. There is also dissatisfaction at the hypocritical approach to racial unity as well as on the increase in social problems such as crime rates and the high cost of living with food price inflation and escalating housing costs.
The PR also managed to gain significant support from Malays as well as Indians in the towns and also in some rural areas, basically seeing PR as not corrupt like the BN. Generally young people - most of them first time voters - who are looking towards more democracy and better living standards, have been attracted to the opposition’s programme such as free education and equal rights for all.
The BN lost almost all its support amongst the Chinese, but managed to maintain it amongst rural Malays with its conservative and racially-orientated politics that promote Malay hegemony. Since the general election in 2008, BN has been dominated by UMNO when other bigger partners - MCA, MIC, Gerakan, PPP - lost most of their seats to the opposition. In this election, their votes got even worse.
Decreasing support in the election will further undermine the UMNO-dominated BN government and will create more internal conflicts and power struggles in UMNO that could favour the PR coalition. Most of the support for BN remains in the rural areas and in the so-called ‘BN fixed deposit’ states of Johor, Sabah and Sarawak. Here it is basically because of the BN’s ‘3Ms’ - Money, Media and Machinery. But even here the PR managed to make some breakthroughs, especially in Johor. Opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, and the PR could also use the weakening of the BN government to entice a minimum of 23 MPs to defect - especially from BN regional parties in Sabah and Sarawak – in order to gain a simple majority and form a new PR government when they see no hope of progress with the BN.
Retaining the position of Prime Minister and president of UMNO is now uncertain for Najib after he failed to improve on the election results from the last time round. There could be pressure for Najib to step down, if internal conflicts in his party worsen or to give a new image to save the dwindling support for BN. This could come from conservative elements in UMNO, linked to Najib’s deputy - Muhyiddin Yassin - as well as from former prime minister, Mahathir. In that case, Muhyiddin could replace Najib as UMNO president as well as prime minister.
There could also be a lot of pressure from the people for the governing alliance to fulfil its election promises and the populist agenda it promoted during the election. BN made many promises to counter the programmes of the PR in order to win the elections. Although economic growth is around 4 to 5 %, sustained for some time through domestic economic activities, investment and exports have not improved much. If the economy worsens, with the uncertainties in the global economy, this could pressurise the government to carry out austerity cuts such as reductions in subsidies and public spending, as well as the introduction of GST (Good and Services Tax or VAT). This could create more dissatisfaction with BN among young people as well as among the working and middle class. In that case, new struggles could develop to fight against government policies.
The good performance in the elections of 2008 and this year have strengthened the PR. Many now believe the BN could not have won the elections without dirty tactics. Since May 5th, a lot of documented reports have been highlighted by PR supporters and members in the social media about widespread fraudulent acts used during the elections by BN, with the support of the Election Commission to make sure of its victory. They include using foreigners with fake identity cards casting, using indelible ink which is not indelible (it washes off!), phantom voters, fraud on postal votes and advance voting, vote buying, black-outs during counting etc.
In order to hide its election rigging, the government tried to play on racial sentiments by blaming the ‘Chinese Tsunami’ as the main cause for the worst-ever election results for them. ‘What else do the Chinese want?’ was the front page headline in Utusan - the ultra right Malay paper linked to the government. It attacked Chinese as ‘racist’ and being disloyal towards the government by supporting the opposition.
On May 8, more than 100,000 supporters of the opposition and young people from different races came to protest at the racially-oriented politics of BN, and vowed that an unstoppable ‘Malaysia Tsunami’, with different races united together would dislodge the BN from power. The rally called by Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat also declared that they would launch a “fierce movement to clean the country of election malpractices and frauds” and to claim victory in the elections from BN.
Given the high level of dissatisfaction among the opposition’s supporters and young people with the outcome of the elections, PR and Bersih - a coalition of NGOs and social movements that campaigns for clean and fair elections - plan to expose the widespread vote-rigging of the ruling government and the Election Commission. They aim to prove the illegitimacy of the BN government under Najib Razak, accusing them of stealing victory from the opposition. With this development, struggles for ‘fair and clean’ elections as well as democratic rights could gather pace, even develop into a movement on the streets like that of 1998 which had the potential, with a clear leadership, not only to remove the Mahathir government but to challenge the rule of big capital and the land-owning class.
However, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat is a ‘moderate’ coalition of organisations with different political orientations (liberal, Islamic) that came together to wrest federal power from the incumbent BN. It has had a common populist programme including such issues as free education. But some issues like that of establishing an ‘Islamic state’ or introducing ‘Hudud law’ for Muslims, promoted by PAS to maintain the support of conservative Malays, does not go down well with the Chinese-based DAP or Anwar’s PKR who want to attract multi-racial support. The increasing support for the opposition in the elections could strengthen the coalition’s chances of winning federal power, but the different political orientations, especially the conservative elements in PAS, emboldened to promote their own agenda, could create uncertainties as to whether the coalition can hold together in or out of government.
Pakatan Rakyat side-lined the PSM
The general election saw a host of individual candidates and some smaller parties contesting separately against the BN and the PR because of dissatisfactions with both of them. The main attention was focussed on the battle for power between the two main camps, and the general inclination of people to favour one or other of them. Because of this, the smaller parties that are not part of these coalitions and most of the individual candidates were totally washed away gaining very few votes.
The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), which has been friendly to the PR and involved in it, lost in three out of the four seats they contested. It retained the Sungai Siput seat which it contested as part of the PR platform but in three other seats, they lost. They were opposed by other candidates of the PR which has disagreements with ‘socialism’. In Kota Damansara, a state seat in Selangor, even though the PSM used the PR platform to contest, a PAS (Islamic Party) member who did not like the ‘socialist’ identity of the PSM stood against the PSM candidate, even though some in the leadership of the PR did not approve. In the two other state seats, the PSM used its own logo but gave uncritical support for the PR. Nevertheless, the PR did not want to leave the field open for the PSM. This shows that the PR is dishonest with its approach, knowing that the PSM candidates have done a lot of work in the areas they contested.
In view of these conflicts and the strengthening of PR in the election, the PSM could be further isolated from it, creating more confusion among the members and supporters of the PSM on their ‘PR friendly approach’. This shows that merely using ‘grassroots activism’, which many recognise as the strength of the PSM, is not enough to build support for pro-working class and socialist policies. Clarity of tactics, programme and perspectives in the current objective situation, along with independent working class positions, are essential in building the socialist alternative to reactionary and pro-capitalist parties in the BN and the PR.
Hope for change
During the election, the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim led the PR coalition on the slogan of a ‘better Malaysia’. There were various promises such as free education, lower car prices, lower fuel prices, liberalising of the economy by abolishing monopolies, democratic rights etc. to counter the growing social and economic discontent among ordinary people. During the two week campaigning period prior to the elections, considerable support was expressed for PR, especially in urban areas, with the hope of change and a new government.
Though it rained for most of the time, thousands of people would flock to political rallies to hear speeches from opposition politicians and willingly donate huge funds to support the opposition parties’ election campaigns. In this election, although the ruling government has manipulated government resources as usual - the ‘Money, Media and Machinery’ – to its advantage during campaigning periods, the opposition has also managed to garner finance and material support to run its election campaigns and machinery especially in urban areas.
Many middle class, students and young people supported PR for better democratic rights and freedoms other than for the social gains. The CWI fully supports these demands, including for fair and open elections. But, better democratic rights will not guarantee real social and economic gains as was shown by the experiences in Indonesia after the overthrow of Suharto, as long as capitalism dictates the economic policies and programmes of government. Therefore the struggle for democratic rights should be linked to the struggle against capitalism for a genuine change in society.
People from different races, religions, cultures and colours have been living in Malaysia long before independence from the British. Since then, the BN with its racial politics, has been using a policy of ‘divide and conquer’ between the different races to prolong their rule. But the ‘political tsunami’ in 2008 has undermined their approach with most of the non-Malays supporting opposition forces.
Since then, Najib has been using ‘One Malaysia’ propaganda to claim that the government cares for all races equally and to gain non-Malay support. But the hypocrisy of the government has been revealed when it has still used racial politics and has aligned itself with ultra right Malay groups such as ‘Perkasa’ that undermine other races. With pro-capitalist policies, the BN will not be able to fulfil the needs of different races, but will continue enriching its cronies and the capitalists. Although the PR portrays itself as a multiracial coalition, it has no alternative to capitalist policies; if it came to power, it could succumb to ‘racially- orientated politics’ of its own.
Working class alternative to capitalist parties
With no other alternative to the BN, many people give their support to PR. The election results showed that the majority of people are willing to try a new government, especially since the PR has shown that it can govern well with more transparency and less corruption in the richest states of Selangor and Penang. The elections also showed that the PR has strengthened its grip on power in these two states. However, with the lack of development programmes in the state of Kedah, under the PAS-led government, the BN managed to regain power in the state. The five years rule of PR in four states has shown its policies and programmes for the people are still dictated by the rule of capitalism – big business and the bankers. It is not prioritised to satisfy the needs of the people. The cost of housing in Penang and Selangor is still escalating, but PR governments in these states are powerless to control the profit-oriented property developers. When some trade unions demanded a decent minimum wage of RM1500 to lift workers’ living standards, PR leaders argued that it would not be helpful for the free market system.
In recent interviews with the Financial Times, Anwar said that a PR government would ‘strike a balance between a market economy and Occupy Wall Street’. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is the anti-capitalist movement that emerged during the US economic turmoil in 2011 with the slogan ‘We are the 99% against the richest 1%’ referring to income inequality and wealth distribution between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population.
The same situation exists in Malaysia, where the rich become richer and the poor become poorer with neo-liberalism and a market economy dictating BN’s policies. The gap between rich and poor in Malaysia is one of the worst in Southeast Asia. It is not possible to strike a balance between a market economy, aimed at maximising the profits of a few and the demands of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ which is to fulfil the needs of the majority, since there is a huge contradiction between them. In order to fulfil the demands of ‘Occupy Wall Street’, an alternative to the capitalist system is needed.
Therefore without putting an alternative economic agenda to that of capitalism, merely exchanging one government with another pro-capitalist one, the working class and other layers oppressed by the system would not experience any real gain. As an alternative to market capitalism, managed and controlled by the wealthiest 1% for maximising profits, a publicly-owned democratically planned economy, controlled and managed by the majority - the working class and ordinary people - should be established to meet the needs of all in society. This is only possible under a government of the working class and others that are oppressed under the current system, with democratic socialism as the alternative to capitalism. In order for this to materialise, a mass party of the working class, supported by young people, students, middle class and other oppressed people in society should be established.
With the growing uncertainties in Malaysian politics and the economy, more struggles for democratic, social and economic rights are inevitable. More young people, students and middle class people as well as workers could be pushed to enter into struggle. A political vehicle for the working class and other oppressed layers should be built to lead and unite the struggle for a genuine change. This is the crucial task for socialists and trade unionists determined to fight for an equal and just society in Malaysia and internationally.
The CWI campaigned for:
•An independent Election Commission without government interference, with unbiased election regulators to conduct fair and clean elections
•A total revamp of the first-past-the-post voting system with equal delineation of constituencies or a system of proportional representation to ensure fair elections
•For an open investigation of the irregularities and malpractices of the BN government in the elections by democratically elected representatives from the workplaces and neighbourhoods
•No to racism or racially-orientated politics that divide the people.
•Build a political party with the involvement of the working class, young people, middle class and other
oppressed people as a real alternative to pro-capitalist parties in order to end the social and economic inequality created by capitalism
•Democratic socialism as the alternative to capitalism in order to build an equal and just society in Malaysia and internationally.