The following is the first part of breaking down the Manifesto Untuk 99% by Gabungan Kiri. The manifesto is separated into 4 parts, hence each will command its own article, with my very biased views analysing them and grading them at the end. After the 4 articles are done, a fifth one summarising everything including the importance of the left in the political scene will round off this series of articles.
The reader is also advised that the subparts covered are a selection rather than the whole, hence should refer to the manifesto proper, here, when reading this and subsequent articles.
Malaysia’s political scene is livelier than ever. Not only are there two strong traditional sides in the fray in the form of Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan, there are also other third parties who hold the view that the traditional players in the game have not put forward strong cases to be voted in. The main two are Gagasan Sejahtera, a coalition led by former Pakatan Rakyat member PAS, and the sole single-party runner, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).
With the latter, we have heard an unprecendented move by a party that small in their announcement of running for 17 seats in the upcoming General Elections, 5 parliamentary seats and 12 state seats. We have also seen very recently a sort-of manifesto connected to them in the form of the Manifesto Untuk 99 % (Manifesto for the 99 %), released by Gabungan Kiri, a coalition of left-wing political, social, and grassroots cultural organisations in Malaysia. This article and the set of articles to follow are to dive into this manifesto and show why it should definitely be taken seriously.
The manifesto proper is split into four different parts, so it would make sense to talk about each of them separately, addressing their pros and cons before wrapping up for the whole. The first part is entitled People-Centred and Sustainable Development, under which are three subparts, namely A Progressive Economic Policy, Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection and Sustainable Infrastructure and Regional Development Plan.
A Progressive Economic Policy
Of these, A Progressive Economic Policy is the most aspirational, and by that I mean not very promising. In true socialist fashion, the group calls for immense nationalisation of public needs, restricting privatisation and heavy governmental intervention in the market. The nationalisation of public utilities, halting of privatisation of public assets and resisting efforts by transnational corporate capitalism to undermine national sovereignty through Free Trade Agreements put a lot of stress onto an already burgeoning public sector.
It has been proven before how the government might not be the most efficient party to deal with assets anyway, hence the quality of service provided compared to the private sector might be such that the public is less well off. In this regard, more fleshing out is needed especially concerning the terms of FTAs, how to ensure accountability on the part of the government to maintain quality of service and, generally, how to ensure the national GDP doesn’t take a huge hit, lowering the potential to spend on public amenities in the first place.
This is not to say this part of the manifesto is all bad. The democratisation of GLCs and planning on dealing with the effect of automation on the workforce is a bright spot, with the former striving for more openness to avoid corruption and the latter being quite forward thinking to potentially lead to a more prepared workforce in the future, avoiding mass poverty. Providing institutional support for SMEs including the reformation of SME banks and financing mechanisms to ensure workers are paid the minimum wage and to spur productivity are good ideas, but need a lot more substantial work to be done to flesh out the details.
This part also contains talks of government intervention in the market, with even the protection of SMEs coming down to the creation of strong regulations. While this isn’t necessarily bad, what with unfair dealings and malpractice by large corporations being negative, we currently see a lot of government intervention already and the complexities of dealing with paperwork and regulation make it very difficult to do business, pushing away investors and encouraging corruption. The ease of due diligence should be considered, with ideas such as digitalising the process of compliance being executed to support these laws.
Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection
This subpart doesn’t need much of an explanation, however there are a few points we can talk about. Food security is mentioned and is heartening to see an advocation of the protection of famers and fisherfolk. With a growing population and need to import some staples such as rice, it is a need that can potentially cause mass famine in the future. Having said this, pointing to palm oil as a commodity to be reduced in production can prove to be problematic due to the sheer ubiquity of it in everyday items. As usual, the devil is in the details, which is lacking in this part as well.
Another point which breaks my heart to see is going against nuclear energy for Malaysia, labelling it as a toxic industry. As an engineering student, this is extremely short-sighted as the amount of energy that can be generated cleanly through nuclear fission is leaps and bounds ahead of any other commercial production. While this stings, it is nice to see a focus on renewable energy instead, and with solar and power becoming more and more affordable, the disappointment is dampened. It would be heartening to see what happens in the future with nuclear fusion as well, but that is beside the point.
Sustainable Infrastructure and Regional Development Plan
Rounding off the first part of this manifesto is Sustainable Infrastructure and Regional Development Plan. The very first point of this subpart is to decentralise development away from the Klang Valley by creating regional centres around the country, capitalising on each region’s strengths. This is a wonderful idea, slightly hard to execute but definitely do-able. We have seen such a development in the Kinta Valley region in recent times, fuelled by the ETS train service between Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. with the journey between the two shortened enough to aide business proceedings. So, a slow decentralisation would definitely work better for rural parts such as Kelantan and help bring down the GINI coefficient there as well as driving industries native to the specific region.
Talking about green public transportation in major cities and transforming urban centres as pedestrian-friendly livable cities is another unexpected gem. We can take Manchester as an example, where many buses are green and the city centre is pedestrianised. It is a joy to walk through and the ease of access is wonderful. Malaysia would have better Manchesters, in fact, as the weather is conducive for walking all year round and, with green public transportation, the air in KL can finally be breathable. We have another mention of preparing the workforce for automation in this part as well, solidifying this point as a necessity, props to Gabungan Kiri for this.
One point that is slightly misleading concerns the implementation of sustainable farming when it talks about industrial farming in a negative tone. One must realise that it is industrial farming methods which lead to affordable foodstuff for the consumption of the layman. The sustainable farming processes to be developed need to result in a high quality, affordable alternatives or would only result in more hardship especially for the B40 group.
Finally we have the point of building a modern rail network spanning Sabah and Sarawak. The relationship between East and West Malaysia has been a storied soft spot when it comes to development, with the former suffering from underdevelopment especially in terms of infrastructure. With a low population density which is scattered throughout a large area, it is no wonder that investors are not interested in establishing businesses in the East. Harkening back to the Kinta Valley example, better access through a railway might help catalyse this. It would certainly help with bringing the East, which provides a plethora of natural resources, up to the level of development of much of the West. States such as Kelantan, however, which are economically behind, should not be looked over in the same breath.
Wrapping up the first part of this manifesto, there’s more good news than expected. Of course, being a socialist manifesto, it suffers from hoping for enough funds to be available for all the ideas stated to run smoothly. There needs to be a better structure to this, maybe even a compromise with those who would oppose it, such as business owners who are looking for more ease of doing business, if it is to be feasible. Governmental efficiency is also given a lot of credence, which might be a little hopeful rather than reflective of reality. Again, measures to ensure this need to be outlined more clearly before moving forward. On the other hand, loads of interesting, forward-thinking ideas have been presented, and it shows the coalition to be bright enough to think quite comprehensively. All in all, this part receives a 5 out of 10 with the high points being creativity and forward-thinking and the lows being the anticipated lack of financial rigor.