Reviving local government elections

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Until legal reforms are introduced to allow local government elections, we should focus on appointing good people to local government authorities, writes Ch’ng Teng Liang.

On the eve of celebrating the second anniversary of  their coming to power in Penang and Selangor, the Chief Minister/Menteri Besar of the two PR states sent official letters to the Chairman of the Elections Commission requesting him to revive local government elections, which had been abolished 35 years ago.

The move was not unexpected as reviving local government elections was one of the outstanding promises made by the  PR alliance during the 8 March 2008 general election campaign. Much pressure has also been exerted by various groups to do so since then. The response of the EC Chairman that he needs more time to study the matter was also unsurprising. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s rejection of the PR leaders’ proposal on the grounds that the revival of local elections would simply result in more politicking and distract from improving public servicse for the rakyat was also predictable.

I am sure that all parties involved are clear that the current provisions of the Local Government Act, 1976, do not allow for the holding of local government elections until Clauses 10 and 15 of the Act are amended. Alternatively, the state governments can ask the High Court for an interpretation of the intent of the Local Government Act and the Federal Constitution. This may take quite a long time, perhaps as long a time as needed by the EC Chairman to study the legal aspects of reviving local elections! The fact is the EC is not autonomous. Some would say that it is part of the BN government! Who really expects the EC to decide in favour of the PR state governments?

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Nevertheless, all parties concerned seem satisfied with the current status quo. For the PR state governments, the request to the EC fulfils their electoral promise to bring back local government elections. It appears that they are also telling us that we must vote them into office at the federal level before local  government elections can be revived.

For PM Najib, maintaining the status quo means that he can continue to appoint his supporters to these local government posts so they can enjoy the privileges and be indebted to him. Introducing elections will only jeopardise this beneficial situation for the BN government. They could also lose many seats and YDP positions if elections are introduced.

Come to think of it, the PR governments also are using these local government positions to reward their supporters. Like the BN, they, too, must not be unhappy with the status quo.

Hence until the next general election comes around, we should focus on appointing good people to local government authorities. We should reduce the number of party appointees and increase the number of  non-party people especially people from public interest NGOs. We must also ensure that more women are appointed and people who have interest in and are more knowledgeable about providing better facilities and services to the people  

We should also strive to make the local authorities more accountable. The minutes of all council meetings should be made public and decisions taken should be displayed on the local government’s web-site.

Ch’ng Teng Liang is an Aliran member based in Penang

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