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Empowerment by Democratisation, through ‘Not Just Words, but Actions

The Asian Pacific region, a global growth pole which has achieved prosperity through many means, has been increasingly scrutinised under the global spotlight with envy; partly to model our success for emulation, also partly to cry foul on the injustices surfaced by a growth that is too big to hide.

Big growth we do see indeed, but sadly, it is an increasingly un-inclusive, unsustainable, and even exploitative growth that is becoming prevalent. The Asian obsession with growth at all cost and by all means have turned into a monster out of control. There is little doubt that political and economic puppeteers at the top of the social food chain are feeding the flames of polarisation; ordinary working people continue be the victims.

Too often, we are told that injustices and inequality are necessary evils to achieve growth and development. Not only is exclusivity nowadays a chased after commodity; the neo-liberal mindset and oppressive regimes have branded human life as a zero sum game between progress with inclusiveness. It is indoctrinated within the people that Progress can only be realised at the expense of inclusiveness; all in the name of competition.

In Malaysia, as a country with a social, political, as well as a cultural –even economical- ‘muscle memory’ that is inherently race based, universal hopes are overshadowed by imaginary yet compelling threat; core values of social democracy, not to mention humanity; like freedom, solidarity and justice are being re-labelled as ‘negotiables’. Racial tension and ethno-centric differences are instrumentalised by the ruling regime to fan the fires of fear.

It is this fear that keeps Malaysians divided and the divisive ruling regime relevant. For as long as the ruling regime is still in power, they will still justify their divisiveness as the ways as means to achieve remarkable growth and development we see. Of course, the top heavy concentration of wealth and other inequalities due to the ruling elites’ self interested control of the economic structures are conveniently kept silent.

Whilst all this is happening, the common men and women, the working people, are victims of the very system they plough their hours and days, sweat and tears into; thinking that living in democratic nations; the power is that of the people. The same resonates not just here in Malaysia as we have heard here today; it is the case in many parts of our world.

With neo conservatism coersively infiltrating every nook and cranny of our societies, our politics and our economies, there has never been a more urgent need for Democratisation.

Democracy in Action?

It must be said that DEMOCRACY as a both a word and a concept have been not only over-used, but in many cases mis-used. We as the family of Progressives world-wide must differentiate ourselves. We must galvanise and unite not just to beat the neoliberals, but also to inspire the world that Social Democracy can work and does work in bringing about a better, brighter more just world for now and the future. As agents of the progressive movement; we must do this with ‘Not just words, but deeds’. WE CAN ONLY ACHIEVE THIS WITH OUR ACTIONS

The Democratic Action Party, as our name implies, value and hold the highest regard for ACTIONS as the fundamental instrument of our struggle. For in DAP, Democracy, specifically social democracy,is at the heart of the progressive movement;

It does not mean that only universal rights are enjoyed by all, but helping and enabling all fellow humans in building the capacity to exercise those rights; it does not mean only lifting the less and unfortunate out of poverty; but giving them the skills to stay out of poverty independently and maybe even thrive economically;

It does not mean standing by in protest outside the prison gates when a comrade is oppressed; but it means fighting tooth and nail through all channels to enlighten the people that those in power who put our comrades there need not be feared, and must be removed.

Social democracy, at the heart of the progressive movement, is every bit about solidarity, justice, equality, human rights, as it is about EMPOWERMENT.

Therefore, my comrades; our people, our citizens, especially the poor, must be EMPOWERED.

Empowerment at work

Whilst it is great to for a social democrat like us to debate with ideological adversaries on the far right, politicians from across the spectrum, especially those occupying the centre, must not lose sight of the reasons behind the struggles.

The ultimate goal must be none other than to bring betterment to the common, working people, people who are downtrodden as well as high flying; people both young and old. Betterment not only for now, or for immediate gratification; but a long term, sustainable betterment; therefore EMPOWERMENT is the only way forward.

We would like to debunk the neoliberal myth that in order for growth and development to flourish, inclusion and democracy has to be sacrificed. We are also confident yet humbled; that Penang — as the lonely island of Social democracy on the vast seas of neoliberal conservatism; we outshine the neoliberals in the game of growth & development. Thanks to governance grounded on Social Democratic Principles, international investment increased, precisely because we believe not only in distributing, but also in empowering.

From 2008 to 2014, we managed to attract RM48.2 billion worth of investments, which is 93% higher than the RM24.9 billion invested from 2001 to 2007.

According to MIDA, in the first six months of this year, Penang attracted RM4.33 billion worth of investment, compared to RM3.13 billion in the first five months of last year. This is set against excellent GDP growth of 7.4% in 2014 in Penang; and the 11th Malaysia Plan estimates Penang’s GDP growth this year to be equally robust at 6.2%.

I am also sure that you wll be hearing from other comrades from Penang, who will speak of Malaysia’s first Dual Vocational Training Scheme modelled after the German System; where trainees are paid to study as they train on the job; and also the remarkable Zero to RM1 Billion story of the Aquaculture industry empowerment policies by the social democratic administration of Penang.

We also have full employment with Penang recording the historic low 1.2% unemployment rate last year. Such good employment market is translated to households in Penang enjoying stunning household income growth of 7.6% annually between 2012 and 2014; and we also recorded an almost unbelieveable 11% reduction in income inequality under our watch so far, from a Gini Coefficient of 0.42 in 2009 to 0.37 in 2012. This is what we would humbly consider as an example of Empowerment thorugh ‘not just words, but deeds’.

We are and will ever walk alone

Our gathering here together as a family not only proves that we have solidarity; but it also proves that we, AS a family are not alone; we do not face challenges in isolation; As comrades, as a family as a progressive movement, WE CAN, WE MUST & WE WILL overcome these challenges TOGETHER.

We know that the challenges we face today may be long and hard, but as we gather here to jointly face these challenges, I have never been so hopeful that We as the progressive Family, are the only ones who can, WE are the only ones who will do anything about it.

To do what? Some might ask.

WE the DAP; WE the Progressive family, will continue to uphold social democracy and prove that not only is it the correct thing to do; but it also works.

We MUST; Because that is what Malaysia and the world need us to do right now.

Howard Lee Chuan How
SA for Pasir Pinji
Speech by Howard Lee Chuan How at the Progressive Alliance & SocDem Asia Conference in Penang on 25th & 26th September 2015