Legal action has been initiated on behalf of the democratic process to return to the people their right to choose their local leaders, writes P Ramakrishnan.
What we are trying to do is right the wrong that has been longstanding. It was wrong for the Alliance government to have suspended local government elections 48 years ago, on 1 March 1965. There was no compelling reason for this.
The Indonesian Confrontation was used as a lame excuse for the suspension of local elections. It was such a flimsy and frivolous excuse that the Speaker of Parliament refused to allow a motion by Socialist Front Members of Parliament calling for a debate on the issue. The Speaker must have known that the suspension could not have been justified in an open debate.
The suspension was such a ridiculous action because the previous year’s federal and state elections were successfully conducted in 1964 without any untoward incident. Let us not forget that we had mammoth rallies then. There were so many political luminaries in the form of Lee Kuan Yew, Devan Nair, Dr Tan Chee Khoon, Dr Lim Chong Eu, the Seenivasagam brothers and many others who packed in the crowds at all their rallies.
Obviously, the Indonesian Confrontation was not a problem when it came to the parliament and state elections. Then why was it a problem when it came to the local government elections? It was simply because the Alliance was losing choice urban councils. These were beyond their grasp. First, they lost the Penang City Council in 1958; then the Malacca Municipal Council in 1961; followed by the Seremban, Kluang and Bentong Municipal Councils in 1963 which came under the control of the SF. The PPP had also taken a firm grip on Ipoh in 1961.
The Alliance realised that the Opposition was better able to win control of local councils than state or parliamentary constituencies and therefore the Alliance was certainly not keen to allow the Opposition free play on these platforms.
Thus, the Indonesian Confrontation became a convenient excuse, however unjustified. But when the Confrontation ended in August 1966, 18 months after the suspension, the suspension was not lifted – in spite of a solemn pledge given by the Prime Minister in parliament.
It was the greed for power that denied the people their democratic right to elect their local leaders. The suspension had nothing to do with any great concern for the nation or the interest of the people. It was solely meant to preserve selfish interest to control and dominate the people.
Now, the federal government cannot – and should not – fall back on a legislation that has no legal standing to perpetuate an injustice that has been crying for a remedy for more than four decades.
We have therefore initiated this action on behalf of the democratic process to return to the people their right to choose their local leaders.
P Ramakrishnan is the second petitioner, in a suit brought by the Penang state government, against the federal government and the Election Commission. These remarks were made at a press conference in KL announcing legal action to bring back local elections.