: Often clad in his signature jacket, red t-shirt and track bottoms-- a jovial smile plastered on his face-- S. Arutchelvan is not intimidating man at first glance.
However, for those who know the Parti Sosialis Malaysia(PSM) secretary-general, the 48-year-old candidate for Semenyih is a fiery veteran at pickets and protests.
Standing tall against policemen is all in a days work for Arul-- as he is more popularly known-- and the number of times he has been arrested tells a story.
“I’ve been arrested 40 times all the times fighting bulldozers outside poor people’s houses,” he told Astro Awani
recently, adding shy-ly:”You’re not going to write that in are you?”
The number of civil society movements that are supporting Arul is evident as several have openly declared support for the politician in his polical contest.
Semenyih is a state seat which became a focus point prior to Nomination Day as PSM and PKR argued over candidacy in several of its seats, including the use of the PSM red-and-white fist logo.
Negotiations between the two Opposition allies failed as on April 20, Arul found out that he would need to face Hamidi A. Hasan from PKR on top of trying to topple Barisan Nasional incumbent Datuk Johan Abd Aziz.
In the last general election, Arutchelvan stood under the PKR banner but lost to BN’s Johan with a difference of 1,140 votes.
Trying not to dwell on the bitter row with Pakatan Rakyat over candidacy and the use of his party’s symbol, Arul simply concluded that wielding power corrupts.
“We were disapointed (with the way things turned out), because our focus was winning Putrajaya rather than these small issues. But having said that, Pakatan is the better option. But if Pakatan behaves like another BN and be arrogant, people will chuck them out too,” said Arul.
However, realising that many are torn in a multi-cornered fight, Arul has also, in his 12-point manifesto, promised that he would not jump to BN if he wins, saying that he was ready to be sued if that happens.
Arul stressed that PSM members remind themselves to stay rooted to the ground, saying that his socialist party believes strongly in “empowering the people, questioning the system, let everyone play a role in the development” of the nation.
He also vowed that PSM has taken alot of principled stand on many issues, and that he would be serve as a check-and-balance for Pakatan Rakyat. In an interview with Astro Awani, the former Kajang councilor talks about the actual work he has been doing, and plans to do in Semenyih if he wins. Can you introduce yourself to your voters?
My name is Arul. I am 46 years old. I am the candidate for N24 Semenyih.
I’m actually a graduate from UKM, a local university. I majored in economics. I did my masters in Labour studies in UKM. Besides that, I’ve all the while in social activist. I’ve been in Suaram for 11 years. I was founder of Gerakan Mansurkan ISA. I was involved in Jerit, oppressed people’s network, and worked with plantation workers. I’ve always been in community based NGOs. I’m also the councilor in Kajang MPKJ. Of course politically, I’m a founding member of PSM. We got registration in 2008, although the party started 1998. I am the current secretary-genearl of PSM. Tell us a little about Semenyih...
It is actually a bordering constituency to Negeri Sembilan, it currently has 42,000 voters, an increase of 14,000 voters. They consist of 53% Malay, 30% Chinese, 18% Indians. The total population is about 200,000. How did you decide to stand in Semenyih?
PSM has a policy where a candidate must work in an area for at least five years before we are allowed to contest. I’ve been working in Hulu Langat and Semenyih for 15 -20 years. For the last election, I was nominated to stand in Semenyih. I was actually very reluctant. I tried to give excuses, that I don’t want to stand in election. Because I’m fine being an activist, and getting into the election thing is a bit difficult for.
In PSM there is no power struggle for people to become candidates. Nobody rushes to be candidates. There are a lot of them who are selfless candidates. So when I realised that there were very few who actually were more active politically, I decided I have to become an example so my juniors would participate in politics. So in 2008, I stood for the first time lah in Semenyih.. Tell us about the issues surrounding Semenyih?
Semenyih has become a semi-rural area, it has 10 traditional Malay kampungs. It has two orang asli settlements. It has two new villages, it has about four plantation estates. There are a lot of new township come through Semenyih, including Putrajaya, Kajang. So you see the problems faced by Semenyih today is much more urban such as traffic jams, pollution. It has moved away from the traditional problems.
Last time Semenyih hardly had any townships, it was more flooding in some areas, roads, not enough public transportation in some of the areas. You have a manifesto talking about what you’ll bring to Semenyih
Yes. One of them is to resolve the traffic congestion in Semenyih. As a councilor I was pushing for public transportation because the private bus companies are not very keen to go into these areas, I have in the council proposed that we have council buses.
Secondly, flashfloods in some of the area still happen. It is usually due to drainage system. There is also the question of pollution. There is a RDF plant It is a very good technology. But this plant, the most of the rubbish in Semenyih and Kajang is brought there. But there is no proper roads to go into the RDF plant. There is alot of frustration. The rubbish has to go into the plant... you’re talking about up to 100-200 lorries a day. So you need an alternate road for this. That company should also be taken over by the local government. Management of waste cannot be left to private company. It is a good concept, the way they implemented it, but the government must be in charge.
Thirdly, we are also talking about other things like housing for the poor, plantation workers, better facilities for the people. What is the biggest themes of your campaign that is different from your competitors?
One the biggest trust of my campaign is that we want to have a form a democratic elected people’s representatives in each kampung, where these people are given an amount of budget so they can take care of playgrounds, any development in that residental, you must get this committee in it.
This is a proper election system at the taman level. Next you must have some funds where they have a say in these things. Currently, they don’t decide, they just make application and another body look for contracts. A lot of leakages happens this way. People take commissions. Local community wants to build wastage system, can they ask their own contractor, we have to head towards that concept. Then the people will have ownership of their own tamans.
If you give them RM5,000 a month, they will maintain and , will do a much better job.You get a lot of complaints on gambling centres, too many in a residential area, enforcers are done by outsiders. You must empower local people to decide what kind of development they want in their areas.
I always advocate a participatory system, where people collectively decide. Anything else?
Well I am also talking about a green Semenyih. About broga hill. We want to ensure that this is gazetted as a green place. Semenyih has a dam which actually gives water to Putrajaya.. it’s very important to maintain the dam and greenery. I’m pushing for incentives to build building using solar energies as well. Some of these I’ve proposed in the council, like lowering quit rents if people use solar energies. These are ideas which we have for semenyih. There also should be a fire brigade station in Semenyih, currently it comes from quite far. There are some cases where fire damaged properties because of the distance. If a person comes up to you during your campaign and asked: “Why should I vote you?” What would you say?
Firstly I’d be quite disappointed they don’t recognise me, because I’ve been working here for some time. I am the only councilor in Malaysia who declares his assets every year. I only have one phone number and it is kept on all the time. I am quite approachable, no protocols at allMy entire allowance as a councilor is used to employe another worker full timer. One thing I have accomplished as a councilor is to put up sponsored banners to let people know who are the contractors in the taman, their handphone numbers, how often the cleaning has to be done. I feel those banners more important than me wishing people wishing happy new year. Your supporters tell me you get very little money from all this. So tell me, at the end of the day, what motivates you to do all this and start contesting as a politician?
Actually when I was involved in doing grassroot work for a very long time. I came to realise doing welfare work doesn’t solve people’s problems. Because the problems are deeply rooted. It’s not about food money, and giving hampers. In Malaysia things are very complex, every issue is related to race and religion. Underlining all that, there is an oppression by the powers that be, there is a lot of cronyism with politicians. Majority of people are working very hard and they don’t get what they deserve. That prompted me to go deeper into the work, and also find a political solution. Politics is not basically about five year once, it is mor serious that that, it is basically people deciding what kind of system they want.