THE promise by the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to have local government elections has been made yet again, this time by their politicians from Perak. The PR in Penang made a similar pledge during one of the state assembly sittings, while the PR in Selangor has largely kept mum about the manifesto.
Hurdles (Pic by Foxtongue @ Flickr) Perhaps it is time to have a little reality check about the hurdles that lie in the way of implementing local government elections. For unless the PR can address these in detail, its promises for local government elections may just be an oft-repeated promise.
Legalities and machinery
The Local Government Act 1976 states that councillors are to be appointed by the state government. This is the first legal impediment that prevents elections. The Act also suspends the Local Government Elections Act 1960, which was the law that governed how local council elections were to be held.
With a national law that specifically prohibits such local government elections, it is inconceivable that the Election Commission would support any move to reinstate local government elections.
This means that the elections would have to be done at the respective state’s expense and this would include the cost of mobilising the machinery to conduct such an election. This also means that the local government elections cannot be held at the same time as the general election for state and parliamentary seats.
Since the state government has to conduct the elections themselves, there must be rules and regulations in place that are acceptable to the contesting parties. These rules must be transparent and accountable. From the voter roll to those who are tasked with scrutinising the voting process, all these details will have to be hammered out. Thus far, however, no political party has unveiled a set of rules that would enable local government elections to be conducted.
Cost and integrity
The above issues are related to what the state government must overcome in order to hold local government elections. There are other issues that would affect the exercise’s overall integrity that also need to be addressed.
Running an election campaign is not cheap. There are cost factors to consider like printing manifesto leaflets and the renting of stage space and sound systems.
With the high cost of running for office, a person’s integrity in running would be questioned. This is especially since a councillor’s official remuneration for urban city councils is only RM750 per month, plus RM150 for every official meeting they attend.
Is the person really running for office, or is he or she doing so because there are other “benefits” that come with the position? Should remuneration be raised accordingly to ensure that the election winner is compensated for the expensive election exercise?
(Pic by sxygsy / sxc.hu) There are several arguments against holding local government elections that I have come across. The first is that non-Malay Malaysians outnumber Malay Malaysians in urban areas, thereby risking the reduction of Malay Malaysians who can serve in urban local councils.
There is also the fear that the state government would lose control of the local council. A state government controlled by one political faction could find themselves in a quandary should the majority of councillors voted in come from an opposing faction.
It should be noted that these arguments are derived from the fact that Malaysian politicians still resort to the patronage system to ensure that their constituent’s problems are solved. Implementing a system that could potentially sever the feudalistic relationship between the local council and the state government may be unacceptable for some.
For sure, these issues are largely urban problems. It is much easier to keep track of an election for a small village with only a few hundred voters, compared to a city like Petaling Jaya, where there are almost 600,000 residents.
Still, unless these issues are addressed, the promise of local government elections will continue being a promise that is repeated election after election. Of course, if our parliamentarians suddenly wish to make the necessary changes to the Local Government Act and enable these elections to be held once more, then everything I have raised will be moot.
KW Mak supports local government elections, but believes the nitty-gritty details have to be ironed out first.
Politicians and local councils
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