THE 2022 Malaysian Cabinet has been announced and it leaves much to be desired.
For one, we have gone back to the era where the Prime Minister holds the Finance Minister post as well while the much-maligned Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has been given a Deputy Prime Minister post along with the Rural and Regional Development portfolio and Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz, the former Finance Minister who lost to Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad in Kuala Selangor, has been made the International Trade and Industry minister.
Many Malaysians are disappointed but there is also an undercurrent of “If we wanted a better line-up of ministers, more should vote for Pakatan Harapan (PH)” and “At least it’s not PAS”.
Well, the fanfare with which we have seen both PH lawmakers and a good chunk of their supporters welcoming Barisan Nasional (BN), carrying them to greater heights far away from their former kleptocrat labels, casts PH as a coalition sliding ever to the right, as long as they keep winning.
The spectre of PAS is real and the impact it can have on our multicultural society is ever-present.
Already we can see the Terengganu PAS government imposing laws against the operations of unisex hair salons, including those operated by non-Muslims – a clear violation of their earlier promises of ensuring non-Muslims will not be affected by their Islamic laws.
Moreover, the same government imposed harsh punishments on witchcraft and black magic, pregnancy or giving birth out of wedlock, women acting as men and sodomy “preparation”, a preposterous attack on women and sexual minorities.
PH loves to point to bogeymen to gain popularity, though. In GE14, they pointed to BN to justify working with Mahathir and now they point to PAS to justify working with BN.
In reality, PH – and all progressives including ourselves – should understand that there are no short-cuts to defeating PAS and the right-wing.
The reality on the ground is that everyone is suffering except the super-rich. The working class are slaving over jobs that do not inspire them, that work them for much more than eight hours without extra pay, that extract as much value from them as possible.
The same jobs pay them a sliver of what workers create is barely enough to make ends meet with rising food costs, rent and loans.
When they go home, the working class are in deep existential dread. If they do not go to work, they will starve. If they do, they’re pressured.
At this time, a group comes to them selling a simple solution. They say “All of your problems are due to other races, other ethnicities, refugees, migrants and those who are not one of us!”
Rightfully, we point that out to be a false promise, a talking point existing only to incite hatred and gather votes. But for the tired working class, what other analysis do they hear?
Where are we, bringing alternative analyses to the marhaen (ordinary people)? If we do not work just as hard – if not harder than our opponents – can we be surprised or disappointed when the politics of hatred gains ground?
The reality is, we are not there in the spaces where the marhaen are, bringing forward ideas of class, the class struggle and building class consciousness.
The marhaen do not hear us, we are not in TikTok nor are we on the ground explaining this to them.
For some, this is due to a lack of resources. For others, like PH, they are too focused on their corruption-reform agenda. This is lazy politicking.
No organisations in the world are going to endorse corruption. It is a simple talking-point that is made popular through vast sophisticated propaganda material.
When an opponent emerges with the same agenda but radically different ideology (like Perikatan Nasional) whose whole messaging was that they were cleaner than BN and were also free from DAP’s influence, we see massive support for them.
But the response, again, is pointing fingers, calling names and accusations of corruption, with the core ideology untouched.
This is dangerous. By not bringing forward a credible, alternative ideological front to the racial and religious angle, sustainable change cannot be brought to our divided society.
PH resolves itself to empty platitudes, making videos preaching unity and prosperity, but the core cure to the pain felt by the marhaen is not addressed.
What we need is an economic program for the marhaen. The relationship between our suffering and capitalism must be made clear.
The lack of power we have as individuals to choose our jobs and future must be linked to the hoarding of private capital. We must make clear why unions are hard to form, why wages are stagnating, why contract work and the gig economy is growing.
Only through the realisation of the true enemy – the system that extracts labour to enrich the few at the top of the pyramid – can we build solidarity through racial and religious lines.
This is not to say all of society’s contradictions can go away once we push class consciousness into the mainstream, rather it would take away a large part of the right-wing’s reason for growth; a convincing, though untrue, solution to the economic problems of ordinary Malaysians.
We must remember that issues such as PH cutting subsidies for farmers and fisherfolk pulled away a lot of support from them.
We must remember that the way the right-wing refutes unifying policies, that is reducing racial quotas for class-based ones, is that the suffering people of their race will lose out. Hence, the left economic agenda is the one that needs to be popularised.
This is not to say PH is in any way a left-wing organisation. They are not in support of leftist analysis of capitalism, or at least it does not show in their policies.
Actually, they barely talk about their policies, preferring instead to hide behind the spectre of PAS and building a cleaner image for themselves.
The heartbreaking part is a lot of us are making excuses for their shortcomings by saying at least they are not PAS.
But the rightward slide in PH is real, all we have to do is see how they have campaigned in GE15. We must remember that the more we make excuses for these parties, the larger the space they have to move closer to their political opponents to gain ground. What then will we have left?
With that being said, at PSM we want to expand our outreach to spread class consciousness. After GE15, we now have more energy and more members to do so.
We implore all of you who would like to see a united Malaysia to do so as well. As much as we think PAS have been defeated now, they will only grow stronger unless we take hold of the narrative and convince the marhaen of the class struggle as the solution to their suffering.
We hope you will join us in this endeavour. – Dec 5, 2022
Arveent Kathirtchelvan is the Pemuda Sosialis chief.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.