SUARAM Penang is disappointed with the Election Commission (EC)’s decision regarding local elections. We urge the Barisan Nasional (BN) government to amend the law to allow nationwide local government elections as soon as possible.
Local elections are a cornerstone of democracy and good governance, and the BN would be showing its commitment to this by allowing local elections. At the same time, it may be able to win back the ground it lost at the last general election if it supports the holding of local elections.
In the meantime, we hope the Penang and Selangor governments will not give up in their efforts to make local government more democratic and accountable. For us in Penang, we will support the Penang government in taking any possible actions which can bring back local government elections and return the third vote to the people.
According to the Local Government Act 1976, Section 10(1), the local authority shall consist of “(a) the Mayor or the President; and (b) not less than eight or not more than 24 other councillors, to be appointed by the state authority.” So, the Penang government can run an election to let the people elect their own local councillors, and the Penang government can then appoint the elected local councillors after the election process.
We hope the Penang government can announce a road map to run an election and then appoint the elected local councillors. This can be kick-started by calling for a roundtable discussion, or by directly using the Penang Local Government Consultative Forum, to brainstorm the concept. For the moment, we can call this process the People Oriented Selection Process.
A possible scenario might be that the Penang government conducts studies on what division of areas/zones is most appropriate for each local councillor to represent; the electoral roll; the cost of the election process; and so on. After these studies are completed, they should be publicly displayed or made available online, to get public feedback during, say, the first three weeks of October 2010. After considering the people’s feedback, the Penang government can then organise activities like talks, forums and leafleting throughout November to create better awareness and greater participation in the People Oriented Selection Process. Possibly by December 2010 the Penang government will be ready to run the local elections, and by January 2011, it can appoint the local councillors.
Initiatives like these will demonstrate the importance of local elections to the democratic process. It will also help encourage the powers-that-be to repeal or change any relevant legislation that is at present denying people the chance to elect their own local representatives.
Ong Jing Cheng