A political shockwave hit Malaysia in March’s general election, with opposition parties destroying the ruling coalition’s two-thirds majority domination of parliament.

Opposition parties won 82 out of the 222 seats, an increase from 19 seats previously, and gained control of five of Malaysia’s 13 states. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has held power in Malaysia without interruption since the first post-independence elections almost 50 years ago.

The BN is a coalition of three main parties each based on one of Malaysia’s key ethnic groups-Malays, Chinese and Indian Tamils. The government has pursued discriminatory policies designed to favour Malays. This setup has been justified by claims criticism of it by Chinese or Indian ethnic parties might lead to race riots, as in 1969.

But disillusionment with these pro-Malay policies saw rejection of the BN by Chinese and Indian Malaysians. However many voted across ethnic lines in order to deliver a blow to the government.

And the BN suffered large loses among Malay voters too-losing control of regional governments in Malay-majority Kedah and Kelantan.

Both the ethnic Chinese Democratic Action Party and Malay Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, as well as multi-racial opposition parties the People’s Justice Party (PKR) and the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) made gains. Dr Kumar and Nasir Hashim became the first socialists elected to Malaysian parliaments since the 1960s.

The government’s pro-Malay economic program has not benefited most Malays. Ethnic identification has been used in an attempt to paper over class divisions. The BN’s policy has benefited only a rich Malay elite. As PSM secretary general S. Arutchelvan put it “economic issues, such as inflation, high living cost, and the fuel hike as well as governance issues like corruption, freedom of the media and the judiciary dominated the election.”

In addition to supporting the broad opposition platform in support of democratic and civil rights and against neoliberalism, the PSM also campaigned around workers rights issues such as a minimum wage, 90 days maternity leave and union recognition, along with environmental, anti-privatisation and eradication of neoliberal policies.

S. Arutchelvan said the PSM will continue their grass roots activism, attempting to maintain a high level of accountability and involvement of their supporters in “people’s committees and establishing a monthly forum so that people can give their views on bills in parliament as well as helping to set up unions [and] local committees.”

“We keep saying that the voters lose their rights after voting. We will have meetings to decide how to develop the areas where we won seats, besides giving us inputs on what issues to raise in state assemblies etc.”

“The PSM is committed to building a workers’ movement. It is only through mass mobilisation that the regime can be changed, but whether we can overthrow capitalism is another question. As for now, we would work on building both fronts.”

By Judy McVey

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