The following is the second 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 the other articles in the series. Part 1 can be found here.
The second part of the Gabungan Kiri manifesto, entitled Participatory Democracy and Human Rights, starts off with a bang with the subpart Real Democracy. Beginning with the limitation of the offices of Prime Minister, Menteri Besar and Chief Minister to 2 terms, the coalition calls for the end of dynastic rules that tend to get stale, wishing for the short terms to inject urgency and freshness into policy-making. Following this is the proposal to elect representatives of the Dewan Negara (Senate) through proportional representation, which is a beautiful idea to ensure the make-up of the Senate remains as balanced as possible.
One especially interesting idea in this subpart is the decentralisation of social services such as education, housing, transport and even community policing to be managed by local councils. Such a system may be seen in the United Kingdom, where the police, for example, are not nationalised, rather operate as independent blocks in local areas. Greater Manchester, as an example, has the Greater Manchester Police while Greater London has the Metropolitan Police Service or the Met. This increases productivity as a large centralised department causes a lot of overlooking of issues and general inefficiency whereas smaller, self-regulating groups move swiftly. It is surprising to see such a policy being advocated by a socialist group and really speaks of their maturity in analysis.
There is such a permeation of autonomy and impartiality in this part, it is a joy to read. Firstly, local government elections are advocated for, then giving prosecutorial powers to the Election Commission to ensure election offenses could be properly avoided and forming an independent commission to elect judges to institute real judicial freedom, all brilliant ideas that need no elaborations. In spite of these, however, there are a couple of snags that might be better to be rethought. The advocation for elected officials to be recalled from office through direct voting via petitions might cause unseen problems when it comes to sensationalist votes and might be affected by voters outside of the region of power of the office holder.
Public financing of political parties through proportions of votes might lead to smaller parties being unable to grow due to their unpopularity. Transparency in donations would be a better idea, though it would not eliminate elements such as lobbying and big industry players from influencing the parties, at least it would be known to the public that elements such as these exist. The terms of limiting private donations should be better detailed to ensure encroachment on basic rights is not done. Other than this, the implementation of local government elections, while a good idea to instil the democratic spirit within the public, might incur such costs that it may be unsustainable. Not to mention scheduling, training the counters and educating the public. However, it is an idea that should be looked into seriously. If not for the length of this article, there would be more this subpart and it is recommended to read it fully as it is tremendous.
Defend Human Rights and Rule of Law
Moving on to the next subpart, the responsibility to ensure the defence of human rights stands supreme is strengthened. Starting off with repealing all laws that allow arbitrary declaration of emergency, torture, capital punishment, detention-without-trial and incommunicado detention including NSC, SOSMA, POTA and POCA, the coalition calls for clearer laws and an end to arbitrary threats to citizens who want to criticize and question the government. As a person who has expressed this desire many times before, I salute this. The next point, though, makes me respect the coalition even more.
Calling for the abolition of the death penalty, the coalition proves that it is for rehabilitative incarceration rather than retributive. It is not a popular stance to take, especially in Malaysia, but one that should be well respected. Understanding the circumstances of the criminal and working to rectify societal causes for crimes is much more important than punishing people. It is now also known that there is little to no evidence to suggest the severity of crimes to impact their prevalence; rather it depends on enforcement of the law. The other details talk more on independence of bodies such as SUHAKAM, ratifying international agreements on human rights and measures to ensure transparency and accountability on the part of public bodies, pretty standard fare but no less impressive.
One of these that caught my eye was the establishment of a Law Reform Commission to review the Federal Constitution and all laws that are unjust and violate human rights, and resolve the conflict of jurisdiction between civil and syariah laws. Recognising this need as a political necessity is probably the most important social move one can make, yet neither traditional coalition would touch it with a bargepole, fearing public backlash and a loss of votes, especially when it comes to syariah laws. It is hoped that the Federal Constitution would be viewed as a document that has great spirit yet slightly flawed execution in parts, and efforts to rectify them would be made. Moreover, the failed dual-judiciary system would be reviewed and removed such that every citizen is subject to the same laws. Obviously this will garner sensationalist public outcry due to the supposed erosion of Islamic influence but is a step that has to be taken for a more efficient judiciary. Moreover, the absence of Islamic laws may lead to a better understanding of common ideals and identity.
Uphold Freedom of Expression and Information
The next subpart talks about upholding freedom of expression and information. Two ideas stand out to me the most, with the first being the removal of monopolies in ownership and control of the press and broadcasting stations by political parties or corporate bodies. It is not a controversial statement to say that the mainstream media in Malaysia is controlled by the ruling government quite strictly. Due to this, a skew in the narrative is often found which leads to a loss of confidence of the public towards it. Some would say this fuelled the rise of alternative media outlets, especially through social media, and even had a hand in unproven speculations both for and against the government. So, an independent press would bring some much needed credibility and overall peace. Having said this, the limiting of corporate bodies might need a little more definition as it can be more insidious than political influence and wrongly defined terms might be too restrictive, especially for small organisations.
The other point is a comprehensive review of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. Together with the Internal Security Act, this act might be the single biggest obstacle in the pathway to free speech. Such a spectre is it that even flippant statements on social media can be picked on to fine someone or even send them to jail. It’s an abhorrent, oppressive act that is in dire need for a review to foster critical analysis within the rakyat instead of encouraging them to be silent and form their own untrue narrative without giving credence to evidence. All in all, another strong subpart.
Equal Rights for All Regardless of Ethnicity, Gender, Age, Religion and Sexuality
The next subpart contains some of the strongest points in the whole manifesto, yet could be interpreted in the worst ways. For example, the enacting of a Racial and Religious Tolerance Act to outlaw racism and hate speech, while noble as a cause, could lead to great restrictions on free speech that may counteract all the good the previous subpart had done. What I believe to be the best point in what I have read is worded so peculiarly, I genuinely don’t know what it means. This is, of course, social justice and the dignity for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) just as for heterosexuals’ rights. If this point means the inclusion of civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community, there is no question that support for this oppressed group is the single best social policy anyone can uphold. However, if the coalition is simply calling for civility to the group, surely in an effort not to offend the religious, the disappointment would be immense and it is hoped the coalition actually mean the former. The other points revolve around moving towards a more needs-based approach for uplifting the livelihood of lower income groups, access to scholarships and other entitlements and a merit-based approach to recruitment into civil and armed services.
Zero Tolerance for Corruption, Nepotism and Abuse of Power by Political Elite
The final subpart of this massive section of the manifesto talks about not tolerating corruption, nepotism and abuse of power by the political elite. Much of the points here have already been touched on or implied from other points made elsewhere in the manifesto so do not really need much analysis. The point on an Opposition Member of Parliament chairing the Public Accounts Committee is a solid one that would lead to better transparency and accountability as political pressure is put behind the perusal of accounts. The call to eliminating opportunities for corruption such as the revolving door opportunities is unique and one that pinpoints to a large blindspot in the public’s vision of what corruption really looks like and should be supported.
Finally, the call for all wakil rakyat to declare assets and not be involved in government projects or corporations should be a given, yet years of seeing companies with immense potential go down from politicians meddling with their governance shows how much Malaysia really has to grow. As a fun fact, PSM still stands as the only party which makes it mandatory for candidates who run for election to publicly declare their assets. In addition to that, all candidates must have worked in the constituency they are running in for at least 5 years and must be endorsed by the local branch. If that doesn’t show strength of character, I don’t know what does.
Conclusively, this part was expected to be the strong suit of a coalition such as Gabungan Kiri as a fair social policy has been fought for by the left for a long time and it delivered in leaps and bounds. It is almost faultless and is not only interesting but brave and mature as well. As the core of the aspirations and beliefs that, I believe, birthed the manifesto, there is nothing much to say other than the shortcomings are few but may be insidiously difficult to deal with. In any case, this part receives a solid 8/10, and even that is being harsh. Congratulations to the left!