Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ELECTION 2008: PRM struggles on in Johor

ELECTION 2008: PRM struggles on in Johor
By : Shannon Teoh

JOHOR BARU: "The trouble is there are too many Malays. Too many Chinese. Too many Indians. Too many Kadazans. There should be more Malaysians."

Quotes like this -- and this in particular, in criticism of what he believes to be deliberate polarisation -- are not uncommon from the lips of Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) secretary-general Song Sing Kwee.

Established in 1955 but not once elected in 40 years, the party is left trading in ideological messages.

With around 12,000 members today in its home state of Johor, Song's definition of PRM as a "small party" is an understatement to say the least.

His description of PRM's pre-election activities as "mainly to get more members and complaining about the Johor Baru City Council (MBJB)" is telling of how much influence the party has lost since its 1960s heyday.
Part of the Socialist Front, which dominated local council elections then, the abolition of council elections at the end of the 1960s basically pulled the rug from under its feet.

Its name change to Parti Socialist Rakyat Malaysia in the 1970s also did more harm than good as public mistrust in socialism and its apparent connection to communism was then at its height.

By the time it reverted to PRM in 1989, it was a case of too little too late.

"Even our logo was a problem. People didn't like the gaur because it looked like the symbol for communism in Indonesia. But we find no necessity to change that.

"The logic is if people voted for logos, we could just have looked for a nice logo and won the elections," said Song.

Song, formerly a Maharani (now Bentayan) state assemblyman in his earlier years with the DAP, insisted the party remained relevant today, pointing out that no candidate had lost his deposit in the 2004 general election.

"People still recognise us. After 50 years, we have history and diehard members. I believe PRM will survive but after this election, Parti Keadilan Rakyat will be on the verge of collapse," Song said, revealing more than a hint of bitterness on what was "not a merger".

Discussions beginning in 2001 to merge the then Parti Keadilan Nasional with PRM resulted in a schism that saw around 20 top officials of PRM joining PKR but others abstaining from what Song believed to be a naive move to form a larger party by ignoring PRM's history.

"I was disappointed. Why should socialists mix with capitalists? It's anathema."

Song and his compatriots continued to lobby for better governance, claiming, for example, that MBJB officers were not protecting the interests of the people and were disbursing public funds according to their whims and fancies.

"I just heard someone say JB stands for 'Jalan Ber-lubang'."

Song himself will be running for the Johor Baru parliamentary seat and in a state seat and admits that it is a "near impossible task" to win

Despite what must seem a losing battle, the 68-year-old Song declared that he was optimistic.

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