The following is the final part in our series of articles on the Gabungan Kiri Manifesto, which also looks at the political scene in Malaysia more broadly to champion the inclusion of the left into it.
Over the past few weeks, Liberasi has taken on the responsibility of breaking down the manifesto released by newly-formed leftist group, Gabungan Kiri, or the Left Coalition. This was done in four parts, all of which can be found here, and this article serves to sum them all up with a wider context of leftist inclusion into Malaysian politics.
The manifesto itself was broken into 4 parts, each with the following headings; People-Centred and Sustainable Development, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights, Equitable Wealth Distribution and, finally, Inclusive Society and Culture. Each of these parts had multiple subparts that covered extensive points regarding the economy, social inclusivity and human rights amongst other factors. As they stand, individually, I gave each part a 5, 8, 5 and 7 out of 10 respectively, giving an arithmetic average of 6.25 out of 10 for the entire manifesto. While progressive social policies stand out as a beacon of hope, a lack of financial prudence and potential pitfalls in terms of protecting human rights hold back the manifesto from being exemplary.
Having said this, it can be argued that I was being quite harsh, especially because I asked for a lot of details regarding not only where the necessary funds will be coming from, but also how it will be utilised efficiently, especially since a huge load on the government usually leads to inefficiencies. Moreover, I advised against total nationalisation and policies that deter business and investment, however this might have been more of a long-term plan. Basically, the whole manifesto is one that I like to think of as aspirational. It puts forth a set of policies based on certain principles that should be priorities but not in such a way that it adversely affects the rakyat or the economy. The steps that need to be taken to achieve this are open to be discussed and found out later, hence the manifesto’s points are suggestions and flaws are variables to consider before an action is taken.
I say this as the group calls itself a ‘pressure group that advocates adoption of our Manifesto for the next general election’. Hence, it is not its responsibility to put forth as detailed a manifesto as a political party would, In fact, the detail that is present in the manifesto itself is quite impressive already, especially since the resources present to the group in forming it might not have been sufficient in the first place. The standards I placed on this manifesto are, admittedly quite high, but this is the standard by which all other manifestos should be judged. It is an interesting parallel to see between what this manifesto does and why the left needs to be in serious consideration when it comes to politics.
In Malaysia, identity politics has taken very deep roots such that any policy brought forth by either side of the political divide is doomed to be entrenched in the narrative of race and religion. This takes the focus away from good policies that actually effectively solve societal issues, towards dogmatic politics where the supporters of a party are too enamoured with gaining political dominance to focus on whether the policies themselves make sense. Moreover, politicians are more likely to introduce policies that dangle some sort of short-term benefit to different groups such that they are appeased enough to vote for them. This is a remnant of our colonial past where the divide-and-rule policy separated our peoples to efficiently govern them separately, lessening social cohesion.
To move from this towards a better system where policies take centre-stage rather than identities, we cannot rely on internal reform alone, as it would take a very long time to occur, as the state of politics in Malaysia now shows. We need a newer, fresher perspective that directly takes on these issues as realities of the populace in its entirety rather than affecting only small groups. Unemployment, for example, is a reality for the whole populace, so speaking of it in the context of Indians alone makes little sense. But if you ask the layman he would still think in terms of ethnicity, as can be seen from certain newspapers and talk shows that speak more favourably for one group, sometimes at the expense of another.
In comes Gabungan Kiri’s manifesto, speaking of issues in a broader context and tackling issues that are usually gingerly handled at best. From progressive taxation to endorsing civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community, the manifesto brings a much-needed freshness into the equation. And while not all of the specified policies should be implemented unchanged, they at least would spark an incentive to negotiate between people who hold differing principles such that an amiable compromise can be reached. This strength in variety is desperately needed in a country where parliament and parties rarely consult those of alternative mindsets and needs in forming policies.
This is the neutral’s argument for leftist inclusion into political arena, fresh perspective unmarred by tradition. The manifesto itself showed tremendous foresight that are not socialist themselves, rather future realities that are only talked about currently. Using the 4th Industrial Revolution as a postmark, the coalition asks for more thought to be put into handling disruption caused by automation and moving towards alternative career options including entrepreneurship. Even cautions against MNCs and foreign direct investments, though naive, are intended to avert Malaysia from being a vassal state filled with consumers of these products without creating much of our own. Strengthening SMEs are also touched upon. Sensible socialists, who would have thunk it?
The leftist argument for parliamentary inclusion assumes some or all socialist policies will be better for the country at large. While my libertarian counterparts would beg to differ, common ground can still be found in the fact that even they hate monopolies and are striving for individual freedom. A proper redistribution of wealth may help in solving those issues. If not that, then liberating the people from draconic laws which restrict their human rights and pushing for a more inclusive society are definitely tenets which everybody can agree with.
The penultimate point is the relationship between the electorate and candidates seeking office. The aforementioned identity politics rot has made it so that the electorate is not taken as seriously as before. Since the narrative has been, so far for so long, only two-sided, one could say either side has resorted to coasting on the fact that there are core voters who they can always rely on and do less work to benefit them. Introducing a third party into this would disrupt the system as those who are upset with one side do not automatically go to the other as there is now a selection. Basically, a third party’s inclusion would potentially increase accountability and make our elected officials do more work for their votes. Hopefully, this would also lead to a decrease in the championing and almost-royal treatment given to ministers, especially in functions where their involvement is mainly for show.
Finally, we have ethics. If we take PSM as an example, it being a leftist party that is contending in the upcoming General Elections, a lot of discipline is instilled into the its members who want to run for office. All of them are required to declare their assets and to have worked in the constituency they are running in for at least 5 years before being able to compete under the party’s banner. Moreover, PSM are tireless in defending the rights of the less fortunate, especially when it comes to land disputes and evictions, even if their work often goes thankless. Obviously this is because they are not large enough to have lost their verve for service and idealism but isn’t this type of sentiment deserving of reward?
The left is a much maligned, often demonised group that deserves to be listened to. They have the potential to bring fresh perspective, make the political scene more policy-based and force accountability to be instilled into prospective office-holders. This being said, the horrors of the past, stretching far from just Malaysia to the USSR, Maoist China and beyond, should remain fresh in our memory as potential routes of failure. We should venture on carefully, yes, but venture on still we must, for the left is not a malevolent spectre, it is the distilled cry of the everyman, who deserves to be listened to.