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the end
of PRM

By webcomrade.

Partai Rakyat Malaya (Malayan People’s Party) began in 1955, formed by socialist/nationalist Ahmad Boestaman - with its ideology of marhaenism, defined as socialism.

The rallying cry for the party was "total independence". It was a reaction against Umno’s idea of achieving independence while still relying on the British to provide for military protection and to manage the economy.

Even the foreign policy was based on the needs of former colonial masters.

But race and religion destroyed Partai Rakyat’s ambition of becoming the ruling party. In the 1955 general election (pre-independence Malaya), it was Umno and its allies, Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) that won the elections.

In 1956, Partai Rakyat formed a left coalition with Malayan Labour Party (formed in 1951), calling themselves the Socialist Front (SF). SF’s socialism is all about abolishing the class system and feudalism, and the capitalist system in Malaya.

After independence in 1957, Partai Rakyat tried again for the 1959 general election. Results were good but not good enough. The party was working closely with conservative Pan-Malayan Islamic Party (PMIP later became PAS) whose head was progressive Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmy. At that time, PAS won Kelantan and Terengganu.

During the height of the Indonesia-Malaya confrontation over the formation of the Federation of Malaysia (Malaya merging with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore), Partai Rakyat leaders showed their affinity with Indonesia’s Sukarno. Ahmad Boestamam then became the first elected Member of Parliament to be put under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA). That was in 1963.

In the 1964 general election, he contested while in prison but lost. Most of the opposition candidates also lost, said to be the voters’ mandate for Tunku Abdul Rahman’ s Malaysia.

After he was released from prison in 1967, Ahmad Boestamam could not accept views from Partai Rakyat’s young turks led by Kassim Ahmad. He resigned and went to England to further his studies.

While the Labour Party, originally formed by British-educated social democrats, was slowly being infiltrated by Maoists, the new leadership of Partai Rakyat, changing its name to Partai Sosialis Rakyat Malaya (Malayan People’s Socialist Party - PSRM), was toying with the idea of scientific socialism.

None of current or former PSRM leaders would want to talk about the term anymore. Both parties, still under the SF banner became more radical.

Demonstrations were organised. Pictures of Mao Zedong were everywhere.

But after the 1969 race riots, the leftist parties were as good as dead. Apart from internal bickering, the government cracked down on the leftist movement.

The new politics of development introduced by the Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, the formation of Barisan Nasional which included PAS and other former opposition parties and the early demise of ideological politics in Malaysia had a deep impact on the progressive groups.

Despite Tun Razak’s efforts to eradicate ideologies, PSRM was still a formidable force by the early 1970s, especially among the students.

It was PSRM that organised demonstrations to fight against evictions and to expose the fate of the poor.

But after the clampdown on the students’ movement by the middle of 1970s, PSRM became a spent force. Some of the students later became leaders of the party but most were more interested in the new phenomenon - Islamic resurgence.

In late 1970s Kassim was detained under the ISA with Dr Syed Husin Ali. They spent a few years in prison. Kassim became a different person. He was more preoccupied with religion while Syed Husin retreated to the academic circuit.

Kassim left the party in 1984. Later Syed Husin took over the party.

After failing to win any seat in all elections since 1974, Syed Husin blamed it on socialism. In 1990, the party dropped the word from the party’s name and from its constitution. PSRM became Parti Rakyat or PRM again. It was supposed to be mass-based party.

But even with the opposition led by the now defunct Semangat 46, they failed to win any seat. The coalition crumbled. PAS became stronger after winning the state of Kelantan in 1990.

After Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from Umno and the government in 1998, PRM saw its chance of making a comeback. A loose coalition was formed - Gagasan Rakyat, which failed to take off after PAS, never wanting to play second fiddle, created a group called Gerak. Both comprised groups of political parties and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Later the parties, without the NGOs, formed Barisan Alternatif (the Alternative Front), riding on Anwar Ibrahim’s trial and misgivings.

Again, in the 1999 general election, PAS became stronger than ever. After Kelantan, the fundamentalist party captured oil-rich Terengganu. Both states have more than 90% Malay Muslim population.

Now, after successfully throwing away socialism, PRM plans to bury itself. The no-ideology mass-based party with not many members is now planning to merge with Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Nasional (National Justice Party).

This will be the end of PRM, once feared by the ruling party for its no-nonsense socialist stand. Names like Ahmad Boestaman, Ishak Haji Muhamad (Pak Sako), Hasnol Hadi and Karam Singh would only be on the lips of hardcore admirers.

If Keadilan fails to survive (as most Umno splinter parties had gone through), Syed Husin and gang will be remembered as the people who put the final nail in PRM’s coffin.

"The intention makes the crime."
- Aristotle -

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