Sunday, November 13, 2011

No bowing out for the seladang (Star)

PRM, the only left-wing party in the country, is looking for a resurgence in the coming general election

A DIE-HARD Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) supporter trudged up a long flight of stairs to the party headquarters on the third floor of a shoplot in Petaling Jaya.

I could literally hear the 57-year-old man’s knee creaking as he spiritedly - one step at a time - advanced towards where PRM was celebrating its 56th birthday on Friday.

On the way up, he talked about the days in the 1960s when, as a boy, he put up PRM posters during the election campaign against the “kapal layar” (the sailboat logo of the Alliance, predecessor to Barisan Nasional).

Quiet celebration: Joining Rohana in cutting the PRM anniversary cake are (from left) treasurer Teh Soon Ming, secretary-general R.N. Rajah and central working committee member Zulkarnain Abdullah at the party headquarters in Petaling Jaya last Friday.

“It was during the Vietnam War era when anti-Americanism was the rage and support for the party was at its height,” he recalled.

PRM won the parliamentary seats of Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru in the 1959 general election.

At 11am sharp on 11.11.11, PRM president Rohana Ariffin and her comrades cut a cake with the party’s logo - the head of a seladang (the Malayan gaur), witnessed by about 50 people, including two party members who were ISA detainees.

After the party, I spoke to Rohana, a retired associate professor of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

A bit wary of attending a party with leftist leanings as it is the season to attack all things linked to Socialism, I asked the president to explain her party.        

“The socialist party - as far as we know it in Malaysia - believes in the democratic process of being elected into power and not through armed revolution,” said the 60-something who was wearing a red bandana.

“If you ask what socialist ideology is, it believes that all production of the country should be for the consumption of the rakyat first and not so much for profit.

“You can make a certain amount of profit but the rakyat’s interest comes first, especially that of the working class.”

PRM is one of Malaysia’s oldest political parties. It was founded as Parti Rakyat on Nov 11, 1955 by Ahmad Boestamam, Dr Burhanuddin Al Helmy and Ishak Mohamad.

“The party was strong in the 1960s and 1970s. But since it was the only legitimate left-wing party in the country at that time, the Government came down hard on people with socialist ideologies,” said Rohana.

“When you look at the evolution of the party, most PRM leaders (such as Boestamam, Kassim Ahmad and Syed Husin Ali) have been detained in prison.”

In 2003, PRM was thought to have been dissolved when it merged with Parti Keadilan Nasional to form Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

“At that time, the party leadership was quite ‘tired’ because society would not accept us as they saw PRM as left-wing and there was a popular movement which was Keadilan, so they decided to merge.”

However, like the seladang, PRM stubbornly refused to become extinct.

“The only problem with the merger was that we should have had a last delegates’ meeting to dissolve the party in an honourable manner,” Rohana recalled.

But in the haste to merge, the leadership “forgot” to do so.

In 2005, die-hard supporters convened a national congress and “resurrected” the party as it was never de-registered.

During the interview with Rohana, PRM supporters would quietly slip RM10 or RM50 to the party president as they bid goodbye to her.

“This is our culture,” she explained. “We are a very poor party and we rely on financial support from our members. Usually what we do is pay with our own money for an event we organise and then our members will give donations.”

It is heart-warming for Rohana to see die-hard supporters climb the steps to attend the party’s event.

“For example, there was a 70-something member who came from Sungai Tembiling (in Pahang) by boat and bus and he told me, ‘Parti Rakyat is my party and I will never change’,” Rohana related.

“And even among the young the spirit is there. Our party is rejuvenated by the young who are interested in left-wing politics.”

The young, she said, were fed up with the infighting in Parliament between the Government and the Opposition.

“There is no compromise or middle ground in any issue that the two coalitions can’t see the trees for the forest.”

The party is seeking relevance in the next election.

It is targeting to contest in seats like Selayang, Balik Pulau and Petaling Jaya Selatan.

The seladang, which can’t be put to pasture, is hoping left-wing politics will make a resurgence.- Star, 14/11/2011, No bowing out for the seladang

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