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
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
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.