Underdogs grit their teeth

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 29 Feb 2004

Socialism may have lost its flavour with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the embrace of a market economy by China, but die-hard socialists still believe in the struggle of not allowing anybody to exploit anybody, writes SHAHANAAZ HABIB. 

THE logo of a clenched white fist against a glaring red background on the wall is the only striking thing in the tiny office of thepro tem Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) on the second floor of a shoplot in Subang Jaya, Selangor. 

“Semangat kuat tapi duit tak ada (Our spirit is strong but we have no money),” laughs Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim , a former deputy dean ofUKM’s medical faculty who is now an acupuncturist and an aspiring candidate for the general election. 

Money — or rather the lack of it —does not seem to bother the whitehairedDr Nasir or the “18-time detainee” V. Selvam who is also an aspiring candidate. 

Selvam was detained by the police for championing workers' rights and fighting against the demolition of squatter homes. Dr Nasir was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for 15 months during the1987 Operation Lalang. 

In fact, the two men are wearing their detentions as a badge of honour in the coming election. The number of times they have been detained feature prominently intheir candidacy bio-data. 

Despite the odds staked against these underdogs, they claim they are going “for a win” and not merely to test the ground. 

Dr Nasir will contest the Subang parliamentary seat while Selvam will stand in the Bukit Lanjan state seat. Their best bet, though, is the Sungai Siput parlimentary seat and they are discussing whether to go for another state seat. 

All in all, the party is fielding fourcandidates — two each for parliamentand state. 

GOING FOR A WIN: Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim (left) will be contesting the Subang parliamentary seat while Selvam is going for the Bukit Lanjan state seat.

Four may be a small number but the effort is quite a feat considering that PSM is not a registered party, has no funds, wants straight fights with Barisan Nasional, and plans to force Barisan stalwart Datuk Seri S.Samy Vellu into “retirement” in Sungai Siput. 

PSM has tried unsuccessfully for seven years to be registered as a political party. The appeal is still pending in court and as the general election approaches, it looks increasingly likely that the appeal will benot heard until after the polls. 

So more likely than not, the PSM’s logo of a clenched fist symbolising unity, purity and struggle will not be on the ballot paper and its candidates would once again have to contest using another party's ticket. 

In the 1999 general election, PSM candidate Dr D. Jeyakumar contested the Sungai Siput seat using the DAP logo. 

Although Samy Vellu won, Dr Jeyakumar secured a respectable 12,221 votes, reducing the incumbent's majority to 5,259 —a steepdrop from 1995 when the MIC leader won by 15,610 votes. 

Impressed by that showing, PSM will field him against Samy Vellu again. 

“The last time we took on a giant, he almost fell. We can do it this time,” said Selvam. 

But what makes a small party like PSM think big? 

“It's mainly our work on the ground,” said Dr Nasir. “We understand we are fighting a giant. 

Through our experiences in squatter areas and plantations, we have beaten giants a number of times.” 

An offshoot of Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM) after the party dropped the word “socialism” from its name and constitution, PSM, like its older cousins (PSRM and the subsequent PRM), focuses on fighting for the working class and championing the rights of squatters andplantation and factory workers. 

The party is proud of its achievementsin 47 projects in Perak and Selangor since 1985 and is using this to woo voters. 

“For eight long years, 50 families at Taman Desa Salak, Sungai Siput in Perak, could only get water supply at 11pm every day but with the help of PSM they finally received regular water supply as of last year,” readsone of its 47 testimonies. 

Other samples of bravado include how PSM stood with the people against the demolition of squatter homes without compensation inplaces like Kampung Sungai Putih, Selangor, in 1992, Kampung Chubadak, Sentul, in 1993 and Kampung Kayu Ara, Damansara, in 1998. 

PSM has forged an alliance of sorts with the opposition front in the allocation of seats to ensure a one-toone contest with Barisan.Although it is probably the smallest party working with the opposition front, PSM is still picky about the seats it wants to contest. 

It rejects outright contesting in seats in which the party has not done any work because that “does not make sense”. 

Said Dr Nasir: “We told the oppositionfront that if they have a better candidate in that area, who has worked there, then we withdraw. 

That’s our criteria. “We want to know how far the people in those areas have acceptedus. 

“The general election will be a good yardstick for us. If they choose us, fine. If they don’t, we want to work harder until we are sure that the area has understood us and will appoint us as their elected representatives.” 

True to its word, PSM withdrew from the Kota Damansara state seat it was eyeing because PAS offered a candidate whom they agree haddone better work in that area. 

However, in the 1999 elections the opposition front had promised Dr Nasir the Subang parliamentary seat because he had done work there but Parti Keadilan Nasional fielded Irene Fernandez instead at theeleventh hour. 

It seems there are no hard feelings over that incident because this time Dr Nasir plans to contest the Subang seat using a Keadilan ticket. 

Although PSM can work with all the opposition parties including DAP and PAS on a “minimal programme” — which is to cooperate on matters they can agree on — Dr Nasir and Selvam refuse to take the easy wayout by joining one of these parties. Instead, they will continue to try and register PSM. 

“You can’t play tennis on a football field,” said Dr Nasir in emphasising the differences among the parties. 

Although PSM is working with the opposition front, Dr Nasir is privately disappointed with the parties because he expected more from them. 

“If they really want to provide an alternative, then they have work at it. If they have done work, people can see their work and will give them the opportunity to try bigger things, like running a state. 

“If they don’t do anything over the next five years, they are going to suffer.” 

Dr Nasir, however, praises PAS for doing some “good work” in Kelantan and Terengganu. 

He also believes that parties should not be formed based on a dislike for a particular individual. 

“If you form a political party without an ideology, it will break down because you are challenging the incumbent,” he said. 

Dr Nasir is equally scathing with comments on Umno and the change of leadership. He says it is early days yet for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who isseen to be going after the corrupt. 

“He has to do a complete overhaul. If he just does some fine-tuning, then people are going to look at it as a show,” he added. 

If PSM wins a seat in Parliament, Dr Nasir says they want to give power back to the people. 

“People should get involved in projects such as developing their own land and working together as a community to run and generateincome from the land, instead of handing it over to some company.” 

Even if PSM does not win a single seat in this election, the party will not go away. “For as long as there is exploitation, we will be around,” quipped Dr Nasir. 

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