Historic pilot local council polls

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Penangites turned out enthusiastically to support a civil society initiative towards local democracy, reports Tan Seng Hai.

It was a crispy Sunday morning (14 November 2010) after heavy rain the night before at the Penang Chinese Girls’ School Alumni building at Jalan Bagan Jermal. About 15 people had already gathered outside the building from as early as 8.00am. The multiracial crowd swelled to more than 300 when registration for voters closed at 10.00am. Many more came later and could not register to vote. They had come to attend the election of nominees from civil society for the position of councillors for the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) and the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) for 2011.

The elections were organised by the Penang Forum. Nominations were received about two weeks earlier and closed two days before voting day. A total of 24 candidates – 15 for MPPP and 9 for MPSP – were vying for councillor positions. Campaigning was only allowed outside the voting hall and there was no lack of creativity and enthusiasm among the candidates. One group called themselves the “red shirts” and dubbed their candidate “Super Ken”.

The morning started with Ms Lim Kah Cheng, a third term MPPP councillor, giving a brief history of the council. She pointed out that the Municipal Council of Georgetown was established in 1857, the first local authority in Malaya, after Singapore. The first local election was held in 1951 but this was suspended in 1965 under the Emergency Ordinance. In 1968, the Athi Nahappan Report recommended the restoration of local elections but this was never carried out.

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Kah Cheng then presented some of the governing laws of local councils, the council’s structure and the role of councillors. She called on the council to make the full council and the special committees meetings more public, and the council’s budget more transparent by putting it up on the MPPP website. She also urged the state government to give back five MPPP positions to public interest civil society groups. She pointed out that ‘NGOs’ like the Chambers of Commerce are special interest groups which do not serve the wider common interests of civil society and general ratepayers.

Ahmad Chik then informed the audience about the Penang Forum and what the Forum expercted of those elected nominees. He also announced that Penang Forum 3 endorses the Penang state government’s no-plastic bags policy. The packed audience overwhelmingly supported this by a show of hands and a resounding ‘yes’.

The 24 candidates were allowed three minutes each to present themselves and their manifesto. Issues raised varied from sustainable development, the environment and illegal hawkers.

Members from the floor were then given the opportunity to query the candidates. Candidates from the ex-police association were asked about their stand on the ISA and law enforcement. A representative from the hawkers’ association was asked how he was going to solve unlicensed hawkers and cleanliness issues. Another candidate was asked how he, as an engineer, would be able to contribute as a councillor.

A total of 284 people cast their votes. Enthusiastic voters eagerly queued up. Vote counting and tallying was completed by about 3.30pm and the results were announced by the “election commissioners” Penang Forum steering committee member Ahmad Chik and Aliran president P Ramakrishnan. The elected nominees for councillors are:

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For MPPP:
– Teo Lee Ken
– Dr. Lim Mah Hui
– Ms Chin Khuan Sui
– Low Swee Heong
– Dalbinder Singh Gill

For MPSP:
– Dr. Tiun Ling Ta
– Sivagurupatham a/l Vadivellu
– Teng Kim Chew
– Krishnan a/l Samiah
– Ung Teow Hong

Ramakrishnan said that it was a historical day and the event was a showcase for local democracy. Prof Francis Loh of Penang Forum said that the crowd’s enthusiasm and spirit shows that Penangites want to bring back local council elections.

YB Chow Kon Yeow arrived in the middle of the vote counting. In his speech, he said that the event showed that it is possible to have local elections in Penang. He said that he would bring the results to the state government to consider the elected nominees for appointment as councillors for 2011.

Tan Seng Hai is a Penang Forum steering committee member who helped in organising the event.

Penang Forum is a coalition of more than 40 Penang-based civil society organizations who first came together in April 2008. The steering committee comprises representatives from: Aliran, Malayan Nature Society, Penang Heritage Trust, Persatuan Orang Cacat Anggota Malaysia, Suaram Penang, the Tg Bungah Residents Association, Sungai Nibong Residents Association, Women’s Centre for Change, etc.

More information about Penang Forum and PF3 can be obtained from the Penang Forum website

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