PRESS STATEMENT – 10 SEPT, 2021 – PARTI SOSIALIS MALAYSIA
A New Deal for Malaysia – Socialists Launch Progressive Recovery Plan
In the last 18 months, we have been fighting Covid 19 and the pandemic induced economic crisis that followed due to business shutdowns and movement control restrictions. As of November 2020, around 100,000 people have lost their jobs and many more in the informal sector would have lost their income.
The pandemic has exposed the failures of Capitalism the world over and Malaysia has not been spared. Although business shutdowns and movement control orders were imposed across the board to all sectors of the population, but the impact on society varies along class lines. The poor were the most badly hit. Many lost their jobs as SME’s struggled to survive and self- employed micro business had to shut down their hard built businesses when costs outran their revenue. They were forced to look for alternate source of income overnight.
Besides losing their source of livelihood, urban poor staying in 650sq feet PPR public housing found it impossible to carry out social distancing and worst still isolation if their family members were required to be quarantined.
Malaysia’s has a long standing conviction to the neoliberal path by detracting from government’s responsibility of providing for the basic essential services for the rakyat and promoting privatization of public services. After three decades of aggressive privatization, we are left with a weakened public healthcare system, monetized education, dismantled safeguards for workers, an increase in precarious work, unaffordable housing and a widening disparity between the rich and poor.
The pandemic shattered the already weak social security system, throwing poor households and even the M40 into sudden poverty. Some of the hard lessons the pandemic has thought us are;
The Pandemic and its induced economic crisis, hits the B40 the hardest. Despite the undistinguishable attack of the virus amongst the rich and poor, but a household’s income and job security often determines if they can remain resilient throughout the pandemic.
Jobs that were taught to be secure could just vanish overnight and many were left to fend for themselves, struggling desperately to put food on the table. Without a comprehensive social security system, many fell through the cracks.
We were always told to believe that the private sector is the key driver for economic progress that provides jobs for the rakyat. But when economic downturn strikes, private sector faltered and downsized their workforce and froze new job openings. Many projects were put on hold, and unemployment soared to 4.8% as at June, 2021(DOSM). The impact is larger as many have been forced from formal employment into underemployment and informal work.
Although policy makers always pushed for more privatization of healthcare, health tourism and incentives for private medical care, but it has been blatantly proven that was the public healthcare system that provided care to the rakyat under the pandemic. Private healthcare was reluctant and moved extremely slow to relieve the load off government hospitals to take in Covid patients.
Sectors of our working people often forgotten and marginalized by many were actually the ones holding up the nation in times of crises. Those that provided essential services such as farmers, cleaners, garbage collectors, lorry drivers, delivery riders played a critical role to keep the supply and services going. We realized that it was not the fund managers, the speculators, the stock marketers and the bourgeois elite that stood out in these trying times.
These hard lessons need to be understood and, acted upon, so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. These experiences have taught us that it cannot return to business as usual and we need to seriously to revamp our economic and development model in order to make ourselves more resilient to future crises.
But the political and corporate elite whom were least affected economically and socially by the pandemic, will not be jolted to offer a progressive alternative for Malaysia. The neoliberal, corporate driven economic model of the Barisan Nasional over the last 60 over years was sadly continued by Pakatan Harapan in its 22 month stint at Putrajaya. It was merely a change of guards with minimal attempt for structural change.
PSM believes that the task of ensuring basic needs are met for the rakyat is the responsibility of government. The government cannot stop at extending easy credit to the banks and giving cash incentives to businesses to preserve and/or create jobs. But we believe that given the marked loss in aggregate demand, these stimuli will not solve the problem as elaborated above.
Trickle down approach fails to solve core structural problems in our policies. Has the political elite realized that they must step in and supply basic needs and services when the market fails to do so?
In this time of crisis, the people without income will be marginalized if we rely on market based approaches. The market fails when human need is not backed up by purchasing power. There is a real risk that a significant number of Malaysian families will not be able to provide basic needs – food, shelter and health care for themselves! And that is not acceptable!
As a paradigm shift towards a progressive people centered action plan, PSM puts forward a new deal for Malaysia. The new way forward attempts to take Malaysia on a path to dismantle the adverse effects of neoliberalism by enhancing our social security and rebuilding our basic support pillars for the rakyat’s well-being. Our new deal proposals are aptly themed “Permintaan Rakyat Mudah Je” translated to mean “People’s Needs Are Straightforward”
The action plan “Pemulihan Nasional Haluan Baru Untuk Malaysia – Permintaan Rakyat Mudah Je” propounds 5 PILLARS as follows;
Empowering Social Security
Job Guarantee Scheme
Housing a human right
Reinforcing Public Healthcare
Immediate Action to tackle Climate Crisis.
The ideas being put forward by each pillar are briefly stated as follows;
Empowering Social Security for working people
Introduce a Modified Universal Basic Income
End outsourcing of government services and absorb contract workers as permanent government staff.
Amend Labour and Social Security Acts to provide protection for ‘gig’ workers and precarious employment.
Reform PERKESO’s Employment Insurance Scheme
Monthly pensions for those above 65 years old
Job Guarantee Scheme
Increase job opportunities in farming and food production.
Construction and equipping healthcare facilities.
Jobs in conservation activities, re forestation and restoration of heritage sites.
Increase Research opportunities in medical and pharmacological activities.
Increase social welfare workers to provide direct assistance to the needy.
Ground officers to monitor implementation of government programs.
Socialization of housework
Reduce working hours
Compel Government Linked Companies to fund and initiate such job guarantee schemes
Introduce a law against anti- discrimination in employment.
Housing a human right
Build more PPR units for the B20
Decouple public housing from the market
Stop forced evictions of urban pioneers. Offer land to occupiers not third parties.
Establish a Non- profit trust fund to build houses for the B40.
Maintenance of low cost housing apartments to be taken over by local councils.
Strengthen Public Healthcare System
Rope in General Practitioners to assist treating patients with chronic diseases to relieve the burden of Government Hospitals.
Use levy collected from migrant workers to pay for their healthcare cost.
Government should bear the cost of implants and surgical accessories at Hospitals.
Ministry of Health budget needs to be increased.
Quality and affordable healthcare is social wage for the rakyat.
Immediate Action to tackle Climate Crisis
Towards 100% renewable energy.
Address pollution from Petroleum Industries.
Increase public transport infrastructure and ridership.
Moratorium on logging and mining in primary reserve forest.
The proposals outlined in the document “Pemulihan Nasional Haluan Baru Untuk Malaysia Permintaan Rakyat Mudah je” requires political will driven by clear class perspective and an anti -neoliberal stance to push for concrete changes. Malaysia’s recovery and progress requires a serious paradigm shift decoupling itself from neoliberal policies that have clearly failed to saveguard the rakyat’s interest in times of crisis.
PSM will expand on each of this proposal through various outreach programs planned from now, after the launch of the campaign yesterday 9th Sept, 2021 by PSM National Chairperson Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj.
By Sivarajan A, Secretary General, Parti Sosialis Malaysia
The only positive outcome for the rakyat whom have been mere spectators to the unfolding political drama these couple of weeks are the hard lessons we can learn from it.
We are in this mess because of two reasons; one because we trusted lock stock and barrel our politicians ; two the bourgeoisie democratic system is flawed and need to be fixed.
Let’s not forget, Pakatan whom we trusted to save Malaysia from the kleptocrats fell from a coup within and not from any attacks of its political enemies from the outside. So what happened? Why did we have turn-coat politicians amongst Pakatan’s fold? Was Anwar fooled or did he know of the fox amongst the sheep?
For the ¬rakyat we are not privy of these political games played by politicians, because we were so overwhelmed by the wave to topple BN in 2018.
But recently we were also taken aback, when some Pakatan leaders recently ‘welcomed back’ the same defectors whom they were condemning as pengkhianat for the past year. In a rush to meet enough numbers for Anwar. These turn coats suddenly became our savior. Similar maneuvers were also made by Mahiaddins camp to consolidate support from the kleptocrats.
The rakyat has gotten sick of these never ending games by the political elite. This has led to the recent narrative amongst many that politicians cannot be trusted. Either we choose to shun politicians or not, but no solution will come if we isolate ourselves from politics. If we are disappointed with the elite politics then we should aggressively build alternate solutions in preparation for GE15, so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.
Firstly while the parliamentary democracy system that we have today has many deficiencies but, at the moment, it’s the only way into legislature so that real changes can be made. But in order to get the right people in to make those changes we need to make informed choices by really asking key questions like;
What are the candidates or the party they belong to political ideology? It’s about time that we dump race based parties, as over and over again they have proven to only enrich the elite amongst their race by fear mongering that the ‘others’ are out to take away your rights. Race rhetoric keeps them in power!
What is their class perspective, are they speaking from a T20 position looking down or can they relate to working peoples issues? Was their election campaign funded by big businesses, which they will have returned a favor by approving projects for later?
Will they be principled and brave enough to take on big businesses when they pollute the environment and destroy communities?
Besides handing out ‘bakul makanan’ during difficult times, will they also put forward concrete policies to overcome poverty?
Will they challenge neoliberalism that seeks to privatize healthcare, education by degrading the quality of public service to enrich private investors?
Will they protect the right of people with different sexual orientation or seek to mock and victimize them? The list goes on…
These are not difficult questions, but they are questions that will define the candidate when as an MP or ADUN, how they will solve your everyday problems. It all boils down to the political ideology and agenda that the aspiring politician and his party have to offer.
The presence of these progressives might not be enough to form the government, but at least they could be an independent block offering fresh perspective in Parliament. We need a form a progressive 3rd block in Parliament that can echo a clear voice against neoliberalism, racism and the power of capital.
The 2nd lesson that we have learnt is that the system shapes politicians into corrupt and self-serving individuals. How is this so? Firstly, the remunerations and perks of an MP, immediately rockets you into an “orang kayangan”. A goodhearted MP without sound ideological grounding on the issues mentioned above will soon find a place in the corrupt system.
Furthermore the system has in place a very strong structure that serves political patronage. BN, PN and PH have used it for their own political leverage. Maybe PH didn’t explore it as sophisticated as BN did during its 60 year plus tenure.
While concerned citizens and civil society organizations are enthusiastically making a wish list on how this ‘new’ pandemic cabinet should be, but the political elites are making a list of their own. Unfortunately it’s not the same list.
For Ismail Sabri the 9th Prime Minister that will take oath and come to power soon, he is already charting a path for his continued stay in power. This means consolidating political power by any means necessary. And we have a polished system in place that enables this. The various government agencies, GLC’s, departments etc. all wait for political appointees to head them. On top of that you can always create a new position when all the chairs get filled up.
Until when we break this cancerous system, the corrupt political financing mechanism where government contracts are given out to party members so that there will be kickbacks to party funds will continue to feast.
It feeds further all the way to buy support for political camps as we have seen since the infamous Sheraton move.
Thus, while we need to pressure the Ismail Sabri’s ‘interim’ government to deliver and take us out of the pandemic, but we also need to build a progressive political force with socialist, youths, workers, grass root movements, climate activist, gender activist, human rights activist and many more to break the hegemony of the two party bourgeoisie parliamentary system. We need to end the situation of having to choose the lesser of two evils in the absence of a truly people centered progressive alternative.
Sivarajan Parti Sosialis Malaysia Secretary General 20th Aug, 2021.
PRESS STATEMENT – PARTI SOSIALIS MALAYSIA- 7TH AUGUST 2021
I wish to clarify my tweet that was questioned by friends and critics on why did I say PH should make a deal with PN to stop politicking and focus on pandemic relieve measures for the rakyat. I am afraid the brief tweet failed to capture fully what I wanted to express in relation to Tony Pua’s comment.
In essence my thoughts are that we face the most serious health crisis of its existence and thousands more are at risk of losing their lives to the Covid 19 virus, the political elite of the country remain engrossed in political scheming.
It is my believe that no Government has a convincing majority to ensure stability and the only way forward is for an interim unity Government as our statement on the 4th August. My tweet in no way is an endorsement for Mahiaddin that he continue to stay in power but merely a suggestion that PH should talk to PN to form an interim unity government until we can return to election for a fresh mandate from the rakyat.
As clearly stated in our PSM earlier statement, we want the vote of Confidence in Parliament to be done now not September. If Mahiaddin fails to secure support, new PM needs to take over to form a interim unity government. We also suggested for a date be fixed for election possibly year from now.
The rakyat should observe closely how the political elite conduct themselves in this crucial period. Are they able to put aside their political games and focus on the well-being of the people? We are in solidarity with the many who put the peoples interest first and we are committed in building a political movement that is grassroots based and can put forward leaders who truly represent the interests of the ordinary citizens.
Dr Jeyakumar (Dr Kumar) Parti Sosialis Malaysia Chairperson.
PARTI SOSIALIS MALAYSIA – 4TH AUGUST, 2021 – PRESS STATEMENT IN RESPONSE PM TAN SRI MUHYIDDIN’S PUBLIC ADDRESS TODAY
4TH AUGUST, 2021
The most enlightening thing about the Prime Minister’s address was that he is willing to test his majority in Parliament when it sits in September, 2021. This would finally put to rest who has the majority once and for all in the open and not is secrecy.
In the next one month PSM feels that the PM will use all his power to buy support, destabilize UMNO through Registrar of Societies (ROS), since it is under the PN government‘s ‘control’. It would also enable pro-PN UMNO camp Hishamuddin and Ismail Sabri team to consolidate their power within UMNO. Whatever done, the rakyat is only interested that Covid 19 cases drop and people are able to resume their livelihood. This perhaps would the biggest challenge the current Government faces.
Most Malaysians are actually fed-up with the current political crisis. They want the Pandemic to be controlled and they feel that Mahiaddin’s failure was in handling the Pandemic rather than his questionable ability to get majority support in Parliament. Covid would ultimately decide the faith of this Government as it has done in to many other Governments in the world.
In these times of uncertainty PSM calls for all Public Institutions and Civil service like the PDRM, MACC and DG of KKM to remain professional and avoid being used by the political elite for them to remain in power and assist the Government by suppressing freedom of expression and protest. Democracy and freedom are always compromised when the ruling party is in crisis.
Siri 30 – Memperingati Perjuangan Pembebasan Aktivis PSM EO6 (2011)– Ulangtahun ke 10.
29 Julai 2011
Dr Kumar memulakan mogok laparnya pagi ini. Persatuan Doktor , Malaysian Medical Association mengeluarkan sebuah kenyataan media menyatakan kerisauan mereka terhadap kesihatan Dr Kumar yang memulakan mogok lapar. MMA juga mengingatkan pihak berkuasa bahawa mereka dilarang mengagalkan aksi mogok lapar ini dengan memberikan makanan secara paksa.
“ In this regard, the MMA calls upon the authorities to respect international human rights law and not to resort to force-feeding as a means of ending Dr Jeyakumar’s protest. The World Medical Association (WMA) – the body that establishes ethical guidance for doctors around the world – states that force-feeding by any means is considered as unethical and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”
“ In accordance with the principles of the Declaration of Malta, the MMA urges the authorities to appoint one of our MMA members as the physician involved in the management of Dr Jeyakumar during his fast, so that we can be assured of his health and welfare and can communicate this with his family and friends on a regular basis, and can intervene medically if and when appropriate, while respecting Dr Jeyakumar’s autonomy and right to carry out this form of non-violent protest”
Pada hari juga suatu memorandum diserahkan kepada Pertubuhan Bangsa-bangsa Bersatu United Nations , menyeru agar badan antarabangsa itu turut mendesak penmbebasan PSM EO6. Walaupun dihalang oleh polis , tetapi akhirnya kami berjaya menghantar memorandum tersebut.
Pada jam lebih kurang 1pm, Setiausaha Agung PSM, Arul mendapat maklumat dari Pejabat Menteri Hishamuddin Hussein Onn yang PSM EO6 akan dibebaskan. Demi merekodkan maklumat ini, dan untuk mengunakannya jika mereka tidak ikuti janji tersebut, maka beliau menghantar suatu email pada jam 1.35pm.
“ Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) mengalu-alukan pengumuman Menteri Dalam Negeri dan Ketua Polis Negara atas pembebasan enam orang pemimpin PSM tanpa syarat dan kemungkinan mereka akan dihadapkan ke mahkamah kelak. Ini merupakan apa yang diminta oleh kami dari dulu iaitu – mereka dibebaskan atau didakwa di mahkamah.
Kami berterimakasih kepada semua pihak yang telah membantu dalam membolehkan 6 tahanan ini dibebaskan dan kami bergembira mereka dapat kembali ke keluarga masing-masing.
PSM memberi syor bahawa PSM akan meneruskan perjuangan politik berdasarkan lunas-lunas Perlembagaan Negara kita
Sekian terima Kasih
29 Julai, 2011 – 1.35pm.
Pada jam lebih kurang 3.42pm – pemimpin DAP mengeluarkan kenyataan mendesak Kerajaan memberitahu siapakah yang mencipta tohmahan palsu terhadap PSM EO6 itu. Lim Kit Siang dalam kenyataannya berkata
“Malaysians are entitled to ask who are the officers or politicians who had been so ‘creative’ as to concoct the heinous charge under Section 122 of the Penal Code against the PSM activists in the first instance,”
I will ask in the next Parliament session who are the officers who concocted such charges and who are their police superiors who gave the approval, and whether the advice of the attorney-general or his officers had been sought”
Pada jam lebih kurang 4pm lebih, kami diminta untuk hadir ke Balai Polis Jinjang untuk menerima komrad2 PSM EO6 yang akan dibebaskan. Pada masa itu, kami masih ragu-ragu jika makluman itu benar, ataupun mereka akan dibebaskan dan ditahan semula sepertimana yang berlaku pada 2 Julai , 2011 di Kepala Batas Pulau Pinang. Maka kami tidak mengumumkan lagi berita tersebut kepada media ataupun komrad-komrad PSM yang lain.
Pada jam lebih kurang 5.30pm, akhirnya kami berjumpa dengan PSM EO6 dibalai Jinjang dan membawa mereka keluar. Suatu himpunan segera dianjurkan di Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall KLSCAH pada malam itu juga memgumumkan kejayaan kuasa rakyat yang dapat membebaskan PSM EO6.
Siri #HariIniDalamSejarah ini akan menjejaki usaha PSM dalam Perjuangan Membebaskan Tahanan PSM EO6 sehingga hari mereka dibebaskan pada 29 Julai, 2011. Ini merupakan hantaran terakhir dalam siri ini.
20th July, 2021 – 10 years ago today – Remembering the turbulent political times, here we share writings from various from activist, academics, supporters and many others that demanded the release of the PSM EO6.
NH Chan, a much respected former Court of Appeal Judge expresses in the blog as follows ;
“ The regime and its underlings the police behaved as expected of tyrants – typical of all bullies they were afraid of their own shadow – they saw the ghosts of the insurgency of Chin Peng and the CPM (Communist Party of Malaya) being revived…..Returning to the hullabaloo of the police on the involvement of national security and public order, don’t they know, as all of us already know, that communism as an ideology had collapsed with the fall of the Berlin wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union? There is no more threat from any idea of communist expansionism from Chinese communists as China has turn to capitalism and has prospered as the world’s second largest economy next to America..”
The then DAP chairperson Karpal Singh also lambasted Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz for getting his facts wrong in seeking to defend the detention of six PSM activists under the Emergency Ordinance. “ As the de facto minister of law, much more is expected of him than “irresponsible and inaccurate” statements over the law as well as his defence of its application against the ‘PSM Six’ as the activists have been dubbed” , Karpal added that out that the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance No 5 of 1969 came about following the May 13 riots, not for the purpose of combatting communism.
As the de facto minister of law, much more is expected of him than “irresponsible and inaccurate” statements over the law as well as his defence of its application against the ‘PSM Six’ as the activists have been dubbed
– Karpal Singh
“This ordinance (EO) has all along been used to quell gangland activities. It has never been used to combat communism,” said Karpal in a statement today.
The use of the EO amounts to “unadulterated abuse of it” and the six persons detained should be released immediately, he said.
International support demanding the release of the PSM EO6 comrades continue to pour in. MP in Australia from The Greens David Shoebridge. Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council writes as follows to the Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak.
Besides the pressure from local and international leaders, our lawyers kept the pressure by exposing all police conducts against the PSM EO6. In a press conference, the lawyers further exposed the government’s tactics in trying to justify the arrest of the EO 6. Lawyer Arumugam whom met Letchumanan to get his signature of the affidavit informed that Letchumanan was subjected to polygraph test by the police. This action by the police is definitely a form of mental torture and an attempt to break the mental strength of the detainee. Whether it is also used on other detainees he was unable to confirm at that time.
Regional left parties also issued solidarity statements demanding that the PSM EO6 be released as soon as possible . The statement is reproduced here as follows;
Regional left statement in solidarity with PSM: Free all political prisoners! Democracy for the Malaysian people!
July 8, 2011 — On June 19, 2011, a campaign called Bersih 2.0 was called by the Malaysian people for a free and fair elections in the country with the 13th General Election around the corner. Bersih 2.0 also called a gathering for July 9, 2011. On June 24, the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM, Socialist Party of Malaysia) launched a Udahlah BN, Bersaralah (Enough BN, retire now) campaign. The PSM campaign aimed to expose the corruption of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government and also to drum up support for the Bersih 2.0 rally.
Since June 22, more than 100 individuals have been arrested because they have expressed their support for a mass rally on July 9, called for by the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih). As of now, 81 people have been arbitrarily arrested and detained by the police at various locations in the country before the Bersih 2.0 rally. A further 15 people have been called or summoned by the police for their statements to be recorded in relation to the Bersih 2.0 rally. The police harassment and intimidation included arresting people for wearing Bersih 2.0 T-shirts, distributing Bersih 2.0 leaflets, holding and carrying Bersih 2.0 T-shirts, taking 112 statements for more than one time, denying access to lawyers and medication during the detention period and the sexual harassment of women activists.
On July 3, six PSM members, including Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj (a member of parliament), have been rearrested under the Emergency Ordinance (EO), which allows for 60-day detention without trial, renewable for up to two years at the discretion of the home minister. The six were part of a group of 30 PSM activists who were remanded on June 25 for allegedly “waging war against the king”.
We view these acts of the Malaysian government as the suppression of the democratic rights of the Malaysian people. This is part of an attempt to protect the elite power that has been in power for years in Malaysia through the United Malays National Organisation-Barisan Nasional (UMNO-BN) regime.
We strongly condemn the Malaysian government for using harassment, arrest and intimidation as a method to try to silence opposition to the anti-democratic, anti-poor and anti-working-class policies of the Malaysian government.
That the government of Malaysia immediately and unconditionally release all the PSM activists in detention.
That the government of Malaysia must stop all forms of repression and intimidation against the Malaysian people from expressing their democratic rights.
We call on all the socialist and pro-democratic movements, in South East Asia and all the world, to build and give solidarity to the PSM and to the Malaysian people who are being repressed and arrested.
We also declare our fullest support for the ongoing campaign and the struggle of the Malaysian people for democracy.
Socialist Alliance (Australia), Reorganize Committee-Working People Association (KPO-PRP Indonesia), Resistance (Australia), Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), Party of Labouring Masses (PLM, Philippines), Socialist Aotearoa (New Zealand), Solidarity (Australia), Peoples Democratic Party (PRD Indonesia), Political Committee of the Poor-People’s Democratic Party (Indonesia), All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions, Radical Socialist (India), Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP, Sri Lanka), All Together (South Korea), Revolutionary Socialist Party (Australia), Australia Asia Worker Links, Vi Pham (Vietnam), Partido ng Manggagawa (Philippine), Herlounge (Indonesia), Empower Foundation (Thailand), Confederation Congress of Indonesia Union Alliance (KASBI), Vipar Daomanee, Turn Left Organisation Thailand, Turn Left Organisation Thailand, Socialist Alternative (Australia), Socialist Worker-New Zealand.
Left Party (Sweden), Communist Party of Sweden (SKP), Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR, Spain).
Union de Militantes por el Socialismo (UMS, Argentina).
10th year Commemoration of the detention and the struggle to release the 6 PSM activists from Emergency Ordinance. (2011-2021).
19 July 2011
I write with great concern over the incarceration of Sungai Siput parliamentarian Dr D Jeyakumar, or Kumar, under the Emergency Ordinance. It is mystifying to me how the authorities can construe Kumar’s commitments and political activities as either waging war against the Agong or subverting the nation.
What has become of the Malaysian power structure that such an individual, widely seen as brilliant and deeply caring, can be so cynically arrested by using the bogeyman of communism? As an old friend, it is equally worrisome to hear that he has been admitted to the National Heart Institute (IJN), with the possible harm to his health brought about by this outrageous action.
Kumar and I go back a long way. There is a family picture of him and me when we were one year old, but I do not remember the encounter. We became friends in Penang Free School, where Kumar spent more time in community and educational projects than in class, though still managing to become the top student in our school.
After the Higher School Certificate exam (HSC) in 1973, we travelled together for two months in India. I wished to be far away from home when my HSC results came out and Kumar wanted to understand why so many people were poor in India.
Later both of us went to the United States to study, he at Yale and I nearby at Wesleyan. To my surprise, but totally consistent with his desire to lead a socially meaningful life, Kumar decided to return to Malaysia to do medicine as this would enable him to understand and serve his fellow beings, especially the weak and marginalised, better.
Although I would be based mainly in Singapore and the US subsequently, I would meet Kumar from time to time, and learn of his political and community service activities and his thinking on Malaysian society.
Much has been said already in Malaysiakini and elsewhere about Kumar’s amazing range of public health and social projects, so I need not be redundant.
All I wish to say is that in all the time I have known Kumar, I have never seen any violent streak in his person, he being constitutionally incapable of such behaviour. And being a very gentle person, he is averse to forcing his ideas on anyone or to act against basic democratic norms. He has been an enabler all his life, not a subverter.
So let’s get a few facts straight. Kumar is a self-avowed socialist and is totally transparent about it. He is suspicious of the profit motive, believes that rampant capitalism has led to environmental disaster and sees a moral link between capitalism and selfish behaviour in society.
He believes that in many contexts, such as in Malaysia, the capitalist system can by-pass the needs of poor communities. He would like to see a more equal society. That entails not sitting by and idly wishing for it or just talking intellectually about it, but actually working to ensure that the poor are organised and have strong leverage in society.
Kumar might have a dream of more equality and a less materialistic life, but it is not a violent dream. It is not a dream that denies religion and/or the value of democratic processes. In the meantime, he and his colleagues are serving the poor in meaningful ways, though constrained by available resources, and groups across ethnic lines have approached them for help.
No decent society arrests such an individual. And from my viewpoint, it can in fact be argued that increasing the social power of the marginalised and weaker segments of society is not just a matter of justice, but is necessary for a productive and progressive capitalism.
For example, in European social democracy, high productivity capitalism coincides with enormous social sharing and low corruption. This system, which I admire, has been underpinned by the strong mobilisation and representation of the working and subordinate classes in politics.
It did not come about from the top-down favours bestowed by the elite, but from the increased social power of the lower classes, through unionisation and political mobilisation, which forced capitalism to be more equitable and, ironically, very dynamic as well. Here’s where Adam Smith, the proponent of free markets, meets Karl Marx, the proponent of a socialised economy.
There is nothing alarming in this formulation. It’s just conventional social science. One can disagree with Kumar’s socialist ideas, but the point is to engage him, debate with him, or to challenge him by providing an even better deal for his party’s would-be supporters. But to arrest him?
Either the authorities do not understand the basic logic of how societies work, or they actually want to block a more moral form of capitalism from taking root.
This leads me to another deep worry. I used to write and lecture on Malaysia, arguing that its governance system was able to survive for a long time because of its flexibility.
I called the Malaysian system a “syncretic state” by which I meant the regime was able to balance capitalism and a decent deal for the weaker sectors, democracy with selective coercion, secularism with religious identity, and nationalism with controlled ethnic mobilisation.
I fear that over time, politics in Malaysia has taken on more predatorial features. Political power is sought to serve narrow self-interests, whose maintenance has resulted in the undermining of institutions. The negative side of the balance is becoming dangerously entrenched. Coercion becomes the easy recourse to political challenges.
Unheard of levels of ethnic and religious brinkmanship become acceptable as a means to maintain power. How much easier to mobilise group emotions on the basis of perceived and concocted threats than to deliver tangible benefits or a high-skilled economy?
And amidst growing alienation, the regime finds itself widening the circle of subversives – it’s no more real threats such as communist insurgents or Islamic terrorists who become targets, but now democratic activists and educated professionals are seen as a danger to society.
This unhealthy milieu has even alienated some of my outstanding Malay students, who are having second thoughts about returning to Malaysia.
There comes a time, in the interest of the nation, for political leaders to understand that social forces and ideas in society have gone beyond the framework imposed by them. Preserving the status quo imposes huge costs on society and tears it apart.
The Singapore government, for example, which used to claim that only its leaders represented rationality and intelligence, leading to much political alienation, have now faced up to the fact that there are many smart people in society with valid ideas who have to be listened to.
In Malaysia, there are now many multiracial coalitions standing for universal principles of freedom and tolerance. There are capable people willing to be MPs and state assemblymen who don’t seek anything more in office other than their official salary to serve the rakyat. And opposition parties are proving that they can run society quite well, certainly no worse than Barisan Nasional.
These are developments which any true nationalist would celebrate. Kumar’s arrest represents a long process of institutional decay and the narrowing of political vision in Malaysia. It is a blatant sign of the inability of the regime to engage with ongoing changes in society or to reform itself.
Recent government actions have undermined all past efforts to make the country look good in the eyes of the world. My Middle Eastern Muslim colleagues and friends think it is laughable when the word ‘Allah’ cannot be used by Christians in Malaysia. And what if I tell them now that yellow shirts are banned in Malaysia? Even Queen Elizabeth would turn yellow.
Enough is enough. Let’s get on with building a real knowledge-based society that is tolerant of a broad variety of ideas in society. The government can take the first step toward reform by releasing Kumar and his colleagues.
JAMES V JESUDASON has a PhD in Sociology from Harvard University and has written broadly on Malaysian politics and economics. He is currently Teaching Professor at the Colorado School of Mines, having previously taught at the National University of Singapore.
10th year Commemoration of the detention and the struggle to release the 6 PSM activists from Emergency Ordinance. (2011-2021)
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10th year Commemoration of the detention and the struggle to release the 6 PSM activist from Emergency Ordinance. (2011-2021).
Remembering the turbulent political times, here we share writings from various from activist, academics, supporters and many other that demanded the release of the PSM EO6, – Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj (the current PSM Chairperson), Sugumaran , Letchumanan, Choo Chon Kai, Sarasvathy, and Sarath Babu.
Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, or Kumar as I call him, is a public figure of enormous stature. Very much respected for his achievements and contributions to medicine and public health in Malaysia, he was the recipient of the Malaysian Medical Association’s 1999 Award for Community Service.
As a government physician, Kumar served many years in hospitals in Penang, Sarawak and Perak, and chose optional retirement when he ran in the 1999 general elections. In addition, Kumar is a tireless social advocate and activist.
Kumar and I were classmates from Form 1 to Upper Sixth Form in the Penang Free School between 1967 and 1973. In subsequent years, while we attended universities in the United States (and, for Kumar, Universiti Malaya as well), and after we began our own careers, we maintained frequent, though irregular, contacts.
Some people may think of the dispossessed and marginalised communities as simply being ‘unfortunate’ in that they have neither benefited from booms nor been protected from slumps. Others consider them to belong to the past – to sunset sectors and redundant labour ready to be dumped by globalisation’s sunrise industries, new technologies and emerging divisions of labour.
I believe Kumar’s reply would be: the history of marginalisation covers the past, present and future. If our economic system and structures of power are not significantly changed (for the better), then we already have a very good idea of how an entire developmental process will reproduce our treatment of the marginalised of the past and present as our treatment of the dispossessed of the future.
Both doctor and social critic
Precisely for the above reason, one has to understand and act. Kumar’s insistence on uncovering the roots of economic deprivation and his refusal to rationalise away the causes of social injustice supply the radical edge to his activism.
Above all, it is Kumar’s willingness to do something about the injustices he encounters, and to do so here and now, that is the hallmark of his blend of personal conviction, intellectual criticism and activist intervention.
Kumar has never treated people as ‘topics for research’. He did choose, out of a sense of professional responsibility and social concern, to be posted to Sarawak after his housemanship at the Penang General Hospital in 1983: ‘All my three posting options were for Sarawak.’
Kumar spent seven months in Kuching, and then requested a posting to Kapit, a ‘more rural, more remote’ location. That was in 1984, and Kumar was stationed there for the next one and a half years.
Kapit was remote – ‘the last boat for Sibu left at 2pm and you couldn’t send any patient to a bigger hospital after that’ – and ‘challenging for someone in his third year out of medical school’. The doctor in Kapit had his or her hands full since, for instance, ‘one had to do surgical procedures even though one wasn’t a surgeon’.
But one had considerable freedom, and there was the chance of working with the Flying Doctors Service that sent doctors by helicopter to clinics in the remote interior twice a week – a service that Kumar praised.
Kumar found his posting in Kapit and his experiences with the Flying Doctors ‘very challenging’. Besides the medical work – ‘immunisations, examinations, treatments’ – there were opportunities to observe at first hand even more remote areas, around Belaga, for example. Kumar saw ‘areas that had been logged’ but noted that in areas that had not been logged, the ‘waters were still blue’ and the ‘rivers full of fish’.
Being a doctor in those remote parts – ‘a very high position’ – and especially being the humble, likeable and curious individual that Kumar is – opened doors, brought invitations and eased conversations. Kumar could talk with people from all walks of life – longhouse residents, headmen and logging camp managers.
He asked questions and made comparisons: why were there ‘more cases of protein malnutrition in logged areas’ in contrast to unlogged districts whose rivers were ‘still blue’ and ‘full of fish’?
Kumar heard stories and made connections: how could it be that ‘six villages unsuccessfully applied for land for 20 years, while local politicians obtained logging concessions which they passed onto businessmen, in return for royalties and payoffs? He was shown letters by headmen, and maps and data by camp managers, and drew his own conclusions.
Towards the end of his Kapit posting, Kumar was sometimes worried, ‘even paranoid’. The stories he had heard and the things he had learnt were politically ‘sensitive’ and potentially damaging to people with vested interests.
Nonetheless, he wrote about the effects of the Batang Ai dam construction on longhouse residents, logging accidents ending in terrible injuries or fatalities and suspected corruption in the awards of timber concessions to the politically influential and commercially powerful.
Kumar would be the last person to romanticise the things he did while he was in Sarawak. I have related Kumar’s Kapit experience at some length because it shaped his modus operandus, which was to detect the ‘social dimensions of health’, when other similarly conscientious and caring doctors would have contended merely with medical problems.
The privatisation of healthcare
Re-posted from Kapit to the District Hospital in Teluk Intan, Perak, Kumar treated a number of cases of beri beri (thiamine deficiency) among migrant workers of East Timorese origin and especially among those detained in immigration detention centres.
He sent letters to the Health Ministry, general hospitals in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, and to all government clinics and hospitals located close to said detention centres to alert them and to ask for feedback. Subsequently, ‘sad to say, a spate of beri-beri deaths in the Semenyih Camp was exposed by Tenaganita in 1995′.
In a replication of his work in Kapit, Kumar established connections between the medical and the social problems of the Orang Asli. Working in a state which has one-third of the Orang Asli population, Kumar called on healthcare professionals to understand that the ‘health problems of the Orang Asli are but the epiphenomenon of their progressive marginalisation’, and to ‘urge a strict prohibition of all economic ventures that impinge adversely upon Orang Asli’.
As a chest physician in Ipoh Hospital, Kumar wrote of the ‘increased transmission of tuberculosis in Malaysia and the weakening of the existing TB control programme’. This was an unfortunate development because the incidence of TB in Malaysia had fallen from more than 150 cases per 100,000 people in 1960 to 61 cases per 100,000 people in the late 1990s.
The re-emergence of the dangers of TB transmission was definitely linked to the ‘cramped and unhygienic living conditions … malnutrition and heavy physical labour’ that contributed to the ‘reactivation of … latent TB’ in poor migrant workers.
But Kumar also traced it to the deleterious outcome of ‘the government’s fascination with corporatisation and privatisation’ which would sacrifice ‘one of the few success stories of TB control in the Third World’ at ‘the altar of market economics’.
From these kinds of positions, it was a small step to critiquing the dangers privatisation posed to the state of public health services. Together with his medical colleagues in public hospitals and NGOs, Kumar organised opposition to the ‘corporatisation of government hospitals’, ‘the privatisation of the Government Medical Store’, ‘the dismemberment of the Malaysian health services’, et cetera, each time making linkages amongst health services, economic policies and political priorities.
It was not the first time that a medical doctor, with primary responsibility for the treatment of the human body, came to be just as involved with the reform of the body politic. Of course, there have been doctors before, indeed other professionals too, who, while devoted to their areas of specialisation, have found it impossible to resolve their concerns without referring to ‘society as a whole’.
They began as technical experts and ended up as social critics. But this tradition of integrating social criticism with professional work has sharply declined.
I cannot imagine that Kumar would regard his experiences to be unique. But I think of Kumar’s approach as being different from that of the ‘public intellectual’ who first picks a cause, an issue or a concern – human rights, the environment, consumer protection – and then adds said cause to his or her intellectual pursuits.
For Kumar, professional work, intellectual criticism and activist mobilisation were inseparable, wherever he found himself. As so often happened, such a critical and activist approach led directly to ‘politics’, as most people would understand the term.
An outsider who wants to be a credible organiser among marginalised communities must have several virtues, among which are an ability to render needed services and a readiness to stand by people in times of trouble.
Estate communities in Sungai Siput
The story of Alaigal is a case in point. Alaigal was founded by several social activists, including Kumar and his wife, Maharani Rasiah, an activist in her own right, after they had worked with five estate communities in Sungai Siput for several years. Alaigal is a community organisation that grew out of years of selfless, voluntary services that won the confidence of workers and their families.
Initially, the main form of service was educational in intent and approach – the activists held extra-curricular tuition classes to improve the academic performance of estate children. There was then a strong sense that educational achievement, family-supported but individually attained, was the answer to the poverty prevalent in the mostly Indian estate communities.
But the workers, their families and communities also made wider connections – between, say, their children’s low educational attainments and their income levels and housing conditions. They began to understand that, if their children failed to make the cut, the failure was not theirs and theirs alone, which was what certain organisations argued.
In short, the communities discovered ‘structural’ problems – their ‘unfavourable’ position in the economy and society – and this realisation helped to alleviate the ‘blaming-the-victim’ syndrome under which they had laboured for generations.
Around 1993, a network of likeminded NGOs, including Alaigal, began an estate-based campaign to upgrade estate living conditions. The main demand of the campaign was that the government should categorise estate quarters as ‘rural’ so as to bring them under the responsibility of the Rural Development Ministry.
In this way, facilities and utilities provided to traditional kampungs could also be enjoyed by the estate population. The campaign actively sought to make these issues known to Malaysian society at large and to obtain public backing via petitions, postcards and other forms of publicity.
At the end of 1994, a second campaign was launched to ask Barisan Nasional as well as opposition party candidates in the 1995 general election to include the demands of the estate communities in their election pledges.
These campaigns brought estate problems to national attention. But, apart from causing a shift of official responsibility for estates of less than 1,000 acres from the Labour Ministry to the Rural Development Ministry, the campaign brought no tangible benefits to the estate communities. In 1996, another campaign was initiated to demand monthly and minimum wages for estate workers across the country.
Accusations of outside agitation always missed the point. It was never a question of anyone brainwashing entire communities. The estate communities did not lack self-reliance or independent thinking.
They organised themselves and mobilised to overcome shared obstacles. They networked with groups having similar concerns. The wage campaign networks stretched from Kedah to Negeri Sembilan and, at a critical point, sent 1,000 workers to gather before Parliament.
Other voluntary organisations had previously helped estate communities to articulate their grievances and problems. But powerful commercial and political interests were alarmed when the communities moved beyond a narrow focus, say, on education. And then the vulnerability of marginalised communities became evident: again and again, their activities were paralysed by overt and covert police action.
The ‘coalition of the marginalised’, as Kumar called it, expanded: estate workers, urban pioneers, Orang Asli, displaced vegetable farmers, retrenched factory workers, van drivers facing harassment from the authorities, stall owners threatened with eviction, and others.
The point was that ‘our team had a lot of credibility’ for being ‘sturdy and reliable’ and ‘people trusted us; they knew we would not leave them when the going got tough’. Soon ‘people stood by us’ because ‘we had stood by them’, and a very helpful network of the various groups was established.
A comradeship of humanity
One might call this approach a non-standard way of entering politics. Kumar did not become a politician by joining a party, accepting its programme and obeying its leaders’ instructions.
From Kapit to Sungai Siput, Kumar was compelled to address real situations and genuine difficulties experienced by different communities of people. For a long time – and even now – his politics consisted of learning from these people, offering them a voice, solidarity, and setting an example.
In the context of the 1990s, that seemed to be the most sensible way of struggling for social justice. But notwithstanding the apparent triumph of global capitalism, Kumar and his friends decided that questions of ideology could not be simply set aside. They, and Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim ( right ) and friends, believed that socialism should remain the alternative to capitalism.
At the same time, the ‘grassroots’ pushed for a party, ‘our party’ – ‘instead of always supporting the opposition parties’. That was how Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) came to be formed. For 10 years, the government refused to register it as a lawful political party. Characteristically, PSM took the government to court.
Kumar is realistic: PSM has ‘no ghost of a chance of forming a government’. But the unlikelihood of a grand triumph should never stop anyone from posing alternatives to injustice.
In this case, Kumar and his friends pose socialism as a moral alternative to BN’s unfettered capitalism that has undermined what had been ‘an equitable healthcare system’, and other improvements to social services and social security that had provided significant benefits for common working people.
To me, that is a responsible assessment of current political realities in Malaysia. More than that, such an assessment affirms the core of Kumar’s politics. I am not suggesting that Kumar embarked on his activism with no more than goodwill. When he started, he already possessed more than an intelligent grasp of political economy and socialist theory.
However, his socialism was never based on doctrines, abstractions and propaganda. Today, Kumar ‘speaks truth to power’ with the kind of courage and sincerity that Malaysian politics has rarely seen with the passing of Dr Tan Chee Khoon, himself a labourite and Christian.
At heart, Kumar’s socialism derives inspiration and sustenance from the moral principles, values and examples of ‘liberal Christianity’ that were, to put it simply, ‘found at home’.
These were the moral principles and ethical values of the Devaraj family – Dr T Devaraj and his wife, Elizabeth, and their children, Kumar, Sheila, Rajen and Prema, and their spouses.
Those who know the Devaraj family are aware of how its principles and values have been expressed in a long list of social commitments: National Cancer Society, Hospice, Children’s Protection Society, Aliran, Women’s Crisis Centre, et cetera.
With his family, Kumar shares a humble yet compelling combination of moral conviction, professional dedication and social duty. The combination expresses itself now in social work, now in activism, and, when the times call for it, in politics, too.
In it, you and I will not find sectarian tendencies, or dogmatic dependence on ideological lines, or textbook fetishes. Nor will we find arrogant and easy assumptions about what to do with the lives of people with whom one finds a comradeship of humanity.
Instead, we will discover a deep and intuitive awareness that marginalised communities live in our midst, dispossessed by progress, expropriated by capital, and neglected by the state.
Is that enough of a summons to a struggle for justice? For Kumar, it is. And if he calls such a struggle for justice ‘socialism’, who are we to differ?
KHOO BOO TEIK is the author of ‘Paradoxes of Mahathirism: An Intellectual Biography of Mahathir Mohamad’ and ‘Beyond Mahathir: Malaysian Politics and its Discontents’.
The above is an abstract from an introduction by Khoo in ‘Jeyakumar Devaraj, Speaking Truth to Power: A Socialist Critique of Development in Malaysia’.
Jeyakumar, Sungai Siput MP, is currently being detained without trial with five others under the Emergency Ordinance on suspicion of “causing civil unrest by any means”.