Malaysia: Fractured political parties head into general election as economy worsens

In the midst of monsoon season which is expected to cover 25% of the landmass in Malaysia with heavy floods, the Prime Minister dissolved the parliament and directed the Electoral Commission to schedule a general election in the coming two months. Although the current coalition government could constitutionally stay in power until July next year, they are unable to maintain unity, which resulted in the early dissolution of the parliament.

However, it is highly unlikely that the next general election will contribute towards solving the current crisis and establishing a stable government. The underlying weak economy has resulted in deep divisions amongst the mainstream political parties. These parties have splintered into various groupings and are establishing new formations. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) will have to compete with their current partner in the coalition government, Perikatan National (PN), and the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH).

For some leaders of UMNO (the main component party of BN), like the party president Zahid Hamidi, not winning the next general election is not an option. Over the past four years, many of the upper leadership of UMNO have been exposed as corrupt and are facing court cases that could result in imprisonment. Even the former PM, Najib Razak, could not escape prison sentence and is currently serving his time. UMNO leaders with corruption scandals are hoping against all odds that they will fare well in the coming election.

In reality, BN, and in particular UMNO, do not have the support they once enjoyed and might not be able to get an absolute or even a simple majority in the coming general election. Their component parties are still weak and are not popular amongst their bases, and the factional splits over the years have significantly weakened the coalition.

A big section of the population will reject and be disgusted with the prospect of corrupt leaders from BN taking over the government, once again. This is especially the case as they are failing to address the increasing economic burden facing society as the government of the day. At the same time, voters might also not be motivated enough to vote for the opposition, which performed miserably during their two years in power.

Weak Opposition

The opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) is coming off a back-to-back defeat in two elections which saw them lose control of two state assemblies to Barisan Nasional (BN) recently. These defeats indicate that they have not been able to gain any popularity since the collapse of their government at the beginning of 2020. During their reign, PH politicians did not fulfill most of their electoral promises, including their 100-day programme, which was a part of their election manifesto. Furthermore, they continued BN’s economic policies, which are geared towards neo-liberalisation. Under PH, the working class and the masses did not see any improvement in their living standards, while the capitalist class made huge fortunes.

Like Barisan Nasional, the Pakatan Harapan is also facing internal turmoil and splits. The Justice Party President and the de-facto PH coalition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, are facing opposition inside his party. This is preventing him from making alliances with figures such as the former PM Mahathir Mohammad, who played a role in the collapse of the previous PH government. A camp led by mostly younger members of the Justice Party, including Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, is arguing to forgo any hope to win the next general election and to focus on strengthening their coalition for the following term. They are betting that the following election will be winnable after they have the luxury of presenting themselves as a strong opposition.

Pakatan Harapan politicians are focusing solely on anti-corruption messaging in their political campaigns heading up to the elections. So far, they have not taken up any economic issues, such as the rising cost of living, lack of job opportunities, and climate catastrophes, which are affecting millions of lives. The post-pandemic economy has not recovered as planned. Both the ruling nor the opposition parties do not have any solution for the rising inflation and weakening of the Ringgit currency. The masses will be faced with cuts in public services and subsidies in the coming months, as the national debt and deficit increase.

Even with a change in leadership, there is no reason why Pakatan Harapan will behave any differently if they were to be ushered back into power. Pakatan Harapan politicians, just like BN or PN politicians, are mostly in favour of safeguarding capitalist profits, instead of tackling economic and social issues facing the people. They often went out of their way to destroy ordinary people’s lives to introduce policies favouring the capitalist class in the past.

The masses need an alternative to what is already out there. There will be many parties posing themselves as the new progressive force like MUDA (new youth-based party), but they are also nothing but a different version of one of the mainstream parties which exist today. It seems like there is a new party formed every few months but none with a program that clearly addresses the demands of the ordinary masses. Additionally, there are also new right-wing forces and ultra-nationalists who will try to gain support by dividing the people along racial lines.

Socialist Alternative

Political parties such as PSM (Parti Sosialis Malaysia) have a national profile and are often seen as a party that are willing to struggle for the oppressed. Unfortunately, they do not possess the political clarity to be able to hold an independent perspective, which is of utmost importance if they were to be accepted as viable leadership for the struggling masses. At this crucial time, the PSM leadership is not offering the masses an alternative and they continue to align themselves with the PH coalition. Although the PH has shown repeatedly that they are not any different from BN or any other capitalist representatives in terms of their economic orientation, PSM leaders are still eager to enter into a political pact with them. The PSM wants to postpone the question of building an alternative to neoliberal capitalism.

The Malaysian masses will need to form their own organisations that are completely free from the influence of the capitalist class, including the political representatives of capitalism, such as the BN, PN, or PH coalition. This organisation should take up people’s demands and programmes, such as higher wages, more job opportunities, free education, and democratic rights to win the support of the masses. At the same time, it also needs a clear perspective to go against the interests of the capitalist class, and to seize political power from the oligarchy and corrupt politicians, to build a better society that will see prosperity for the people.

Empty promises will not suffice. There needs to be a real plan to fulfill each demand and promises and a willingness to fight for it. Just as many inside PH realised when they became the government in 2018, the capitalist class which undemocratically holds the economic power will not give even an inch of space to elevate the people out of their misery. PH politicians who are subservient to the capitalist class were completely unwilling to struggle for the needs of the citizens and were happy to make u-turns on their promises in order to please their capitalist masters.

The Malaysian masses need a new force, a new leadership which is clearly separated from the interests of the rich and powerful and is fully committed to struggling for the benefit of the masses. It needs to have mass participation built on a class-based program with a democratic structure. This leadership should not be a replica of the existing political parties which are disingenuous, and undemocratic and work to protect the capitalist class. Instead, true people’s representatives should build their membership and support through actual grassroots and workplace struggles and oppose the capitalist class interest as their main agenda.

A logical place to start building this leadership will be from existing grassroots organisations such as Trade Unions, student groups, and independent civil societies. This is where one will find leaders with calibre and sincerity to fight for the transformation of society. Some Trade Unions are already experienced in organising successful industrial actions against oppression at the workplace and are familiar with the nature of the struggle. However, this leadership should be clear in their goal to not only build a struggle or movement to fight for people’s demands but to also seek a structural change in the politics and economics of society. Surface reforms without structural changes will not be able to lift the masses out of their current miserable conditions. Additionally, urgent actions are needed to undertake the serious threat of climate change which is not being addressed by the mainstream parties.

The days and months to come will be filled with even more misery and hardship for the masses of the world and the capitalist class will continue to scavenge for every last penny they can fit in their bulging pockets. The only way out for the masses is to establish a strong leadership, a mass workers and peoples party with a popular program and a clear political perspective.

Socialism should be put forth as a viable alternative to the existing corrupt capitalism. Sections of youth and the working class should engage in discussions and joint struggles to find a way to make the socialist alternative a reality. As the global economic conditions deteriorate, revolutionary socialists will be presented with opportunities to engage in class struggles and provide the masses a way out of the current crises by fighting for genuine democratic socialism.

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