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Raising fists with the politically frustrated

 | November 5, 2017

PSM's people-oriented politics is slowly gaining traction with the so-called disillusioned youths.

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Any pundit trying to make a prediction of how the 14th general election will turn out will have to consider the Mahathir factor as one of the most important determinants. Is the former prime minister’s leadership of Pakatan Harapan a boon or a bane to the opposition coalition?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Mahathir’s party, PPBM, is definitely drawing a number of traditional Umno supporters to Pakatan’s side, but it’s anybody’s guess how significant that number is, never mind how loudly PPBM leaders boast that it is a huge number.

There is, however, the certainty that quite a number of voters who chose the opposition in the last couple of elections are now finding it hard to trust Pakatan. But then again, that does not mean they now trust Barisan Nasional. Will they then choose not to vote at all?

Pakatan has shown that it is aware of the possibility of losing supporters because it has embraced Mahathir. We are now hearing its leaders say something to the effect of “vote us in and if things don’t change for the better, then vote us back out.”

A few pundits have said that it is the young new voters who will decide the result of the coming election. You can’t take that kind of punditry seriously because it ignores what is apparent, not only from general observation but through organised surveys and research that are quite credible – that is, the youths, generally, aren’t interested in voting for the following reasons:

  • They believe there’s no longer any democracy in Malaysia and their votes will therefore make no difference.
  • Even if their votes can determine who gains power, it won’t make any difference to their lives. This is because they think all politicians look out only for themselves.

The second notion is something that one small and often overlooked party seems to be successfully capitalising on.

PSM’s people-centric brand of politics is gaining traction – slowly, but it is traction, nevertheless – with the very people who are supposed to be disillusioned with politics.

Like any political party, PSM may have its flaws. However, while leaders of other opposition parties seem to be more interested in gaining power and pontificating on economic matters that the average Joe finds hard to relate to, PSM’s people are seen in their scruffy and sweaty red shirts on the streets next to farmers in Cameron Highlands, laid-off factory workers in Shah Alam and Gatco settlers in Negeri Sembilan, all raising their fists together against the menteris besar and company CEOs and even authorities higher than those.

Now, that is an image that attracts the youths. The internet-savvy youths, unlike those of previous generations, do not associate red shirts and the word “socialism” with communism and are not turned off by it.

What the youths of today do see is that the people in PSM are down to earth folk they can meet and talk to, unlike the generality of Pakatan Harapan leaders, who may seem a little too high and mighty, or the datuks and tan sris in Umno, who have airs about them that indicate they have to be spoken to with a certain amount of respect.

However, it does seem to be a little late in the day for PSM to make an impact in the impending election. Still, the party can become a force to be reckoned with if it addresses some obstacles it is currently facing. It should certainly do the following:

  • It must take up matters that specifically concern the Muslim and Malay communities. Although PSM is a multiracial party and its chairman is a Malay, some rural Malays may be frightened away by its large Indian membership and the fact that many of its concerns happen to be related to the issue of oppression of Indian communities.
  • It must show that it intends to win power and explain to voters why that would be good for them. There are still many out there who think PSM is an NGO instead of a political party that contests in elections. The people-oriented politics it plays has obviously become something of a double-edged sword because Malaysians are so used to seeing politicians in business suits.
  • It must make a better effort at putting its name out there and becoming good friends with the media. Compared to other political parties, PSM rarely makes headlines. It may face the problem of losing potential supporters simply because those voters don’t know enough about it or even that it exists.

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