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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saga of PSM 6: A lesson in mishandling

For three weeks now, appalled observers of the train wreck of the Bersih disaster may have assumed that at some point someone within the Najib Razak administration would have the presence of mind to pull one damsel, at least, off the track of the onrushing train.

That happened yesterday when the PSM 6, or the EO 6, were released by police after nearly a month's detention on grounds that shifted from the farcical (rebellion against the king) to the incredible (threats to national security) to the manifestly false (they were central planners of the Bersih 2.0 march).

NONEBy arresting the PSM 6 for no good reason and then continuing to hold them on successively unsustainable grounds, the government had gratuitously deepened the mess of its handling of the Bersih-organised march for electoral reform on July 9.

While it lasted, the detention of the six was an abscess on the wound of the government's mishandling of the entire Bersih issue.

The terseness of the inspector-general of police's explanation yesterday that further action on the released detainees will be determined by the AG's Chambers only served to underscore the implausibility of the case for the detention of the six.

Those familiar with the temperament of the PSM cohort know that they are just about the most pacific of activists: about the only danger the party's activists would pose to the public is that one of them might be moved, on occasion, to smack somebody with a poster of Che Guevara.

If that were to happen, the victim may well feel complimented by the evidence that someone from the party could get ruffled enough to do something as mildly aggressive as brandishing a poster.

Socialist panaceas


spr approve psm logo 290409 nasir hashimBut don't get this minuscule bunch of mainly social workers masquerading as politicians - led by the amiable trio of PSM chairman Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim, secretary general S Arutchelvan and MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj - wrong.

They are only mild in temperament; in person, they are unwavering in their belief that socialism is panacea for the ills of the national and world economy.

Sometimes when you chat with them, it is as if they have not heard of the world's history between the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Or rather, they subscribe to a wholly different narrative as to what really happened to the socialist theory that you can build a society on the basis that each member would contribute according to his ability and take according to his need. This is essentially the core of socialist ideology.

The contrary theory holds that human beings are essentially self-interested who can only be enticed by incentives to give according to their ability and take according to their economic worth.

Proponents of socialist ideology would criticise this theory as furnishing the basis for the exploitation of the many by the few.

No matter what you tell the PSM crowd about the history of the world since October 1917, you are not likely to dent their enthusiasm for socialist panaceas.

Fostering separatism

From 1999, they have been trying to get their party recognised as a legal body by the Registrar of Societies, resorting to the courts for remedy when the ROS spurned them.

psm eo6 release pc 290711 sarasvathyOnly in 2009 did PSM succeed in gaining ROS recognition. And that recognition, as everyone knows, owed more to the desire of the powers-that-be to cause division among the opposition.

An unrecognised PSM would tend to contest elections under the banner of PKR rather than any other opposition party.

The powers-that-be would rather foster separatism among the opposition rather than allow a situation where the use of proxies by PKR might promote eventual solidarity between it and PSM, daunting as it is to bridge the divide between the two, on economic matters at least.

Even as a separate entity, PSM are not likely to garner more than a small corner of the political market for votes.

But, from one standpoint, that small corner is worthwhile if it succeeds in creating the impression that the opposition is an ideologically disparate lot, not worth the public's attention or support.

Public sympathy

However, public perceptions have changed rather much since June 25 when a bunch of PSM activists was detained in Penang while on a campaign swing through Kedah and neighbouring states.

The police decision to hold six senior officials of the party - the PSM 6 who later became the EO 6 - on inherently incredible grounds only served to boost the public profile of this hitherto little-known party into a force that is bigger than its actual size would warrant.

NONEThe party's membership is about 500 but in recent days it has been deluged with inquiries from the public about membership.

The police action has given the party an unprecedented boost. This is not likely to increase its membership figures to rival those of its comparatively gigantic allies in Pakatan Rakyat, but it has made it that much harder to render PSM susceptible to the argument that their socio-economic agenda is attainable through the egalitarian goals of Pakatan.

In sum, by myopically, albeit briefly, incarcerating the PSM 6, the authorities have aroused public sympathy for the party and, by extension, for the opposition and its aim of supplanting Umno-BN inPutrajaya.

But it has made the larger goal of opposition solidarity on a common socio-economic agenda more difficult to achieve.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent. - Malaysiakini

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