Local government elections encourage the people to be critical and politically well informed and involved. Ultimately, the people have the right to choose and decide on matters that concern them, despite the politicking, says CY.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s recent decision in favour of the revival of local government election should be applauded despite the Pakatan’s ongoing political dramas. The continuous efforts and campaigns by various groups of NGOs have finally gained fruit. But more struggles lie ahead in the path to further democratisation.
First and foremost is the accountability and political will of the SPR to implement necessary actions. Then, there is the contest between the federal and state government on the legality and indeed politics of holding local government elections, which is also the most difficult one. Is the BN federal government willing to return the ‘third vote’ to the rakyat?
Putting aside these issues, let me just briefly describe my own exposure in the Philippines on what might be the political scenario (in Malaysia) when local government elections is implemented. Since the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the Philippines’ political system has changed from authoritarian to democratic rule. Elections have been given back to the people from the presidential level down to the barangay (smallest political unit) level. Besides electing their President, congresspersons, governors, mayors, and district officers, the people are also electing their barangay captains. In a nutshell, people get to elect their respective representatives down to the local level.
It is true that Philippine (local) politics has involved violence and corruption. But there are also many other positive benefits because local government elections have egged on a politics about issues concerning people’s welfare, ideologies, and morality, such as has been reported in the case of Zamboanga City. Again, while it is true that politicians are manipulative and are engaged in vote buying, local government elections has also seen the emergence of politicians who are compelled to respond to and be accountable to the people and their well-being.
What is more important is that local government elections also encourage the people to be critical and politically well informed and involved. Meetings with mayors, vice-mayors, municipal/city councillors are regularly held. Projects and programmes do get implemented. Some parties do become satisfied with the projects, but many do not, or are even marginalised because they belong to different political camps. Indeed, there are also calls to get rid of existing candidates and to replace them with new ones so that more reforms can occur. The important thing is that: people have a choice, they can voice out their opinions and they can decide!
Note that the Philippines’ economic underdevelopment and its political instability are not the result of corruption and/or too much democratisation and contest, as some anti-democratic political leaders in the region have argued. The issues are much more complicated than this sort of linear assumption.
That said, local government elections open up a public space for the rakyat to be critical and to practise checks and balances. Such elections allow the people to participate actively in the quest for improvement and change and enable them to gain access to information. They are also to make local government transparent and get people familiarised with the government system. Ultimately, the people have the right to choose and decide on matters that concern them, despite the politicking.
CY is a regular contributor to this column.