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A showcase for democratic space, post GE 2008

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Soon Chuan Yean showcases Penang Forum 4, a continuing initiative to broaden public participation in local democracy, good governance and decision-making in development.

Since the first Penang Forum in 2008, we have seen a widening of democratic space and people’s participation in governance.

The First Penang Forum focused on resolutions and proposals to the newly elected State government on various issues concerning Penangites. The Second Forum discussed the performance of the new state and local government after two years of their governance. The Third Forum organised a mock election (to select civil society nominees to become municipal councillors) in conjunction with concerned citizens’ call for local elections.

Penang Forum 4, which was held on 18 December 2011 at the Caring Society Complex, showcased another instance of this broadening democratic space in the post -2008 general election era.

From my observation, Penang Forum has become a widely accepted forum that people use to put across their desperation and highlight issues they are concerned about; it also provides space for them to articulate their visions of Penang as a liveable place. Not only that, Penang Forum has become a people’s forum to engage with the state government and to communicate with the state within the democratic space that the Penangites are enjoying today.

Penang Forum has matured into a forum that includes Penangites in the process of decision making, dialogue and evaluation. It aims to be inclusive in addressing issues or themes that are timely and relevant to Penangites in particular and Malaysians in general.

The latest forum is another such manifestation of democracy to address the people’s vision and provide for people’s participation in the process of governance. The event provides space for people to practise their fundamental right to freedom of speech.

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In the various presentations made by various civil society representatives and ordinary individuals, the participants were informed of various development issues relating to the Local Plan and the Structure Plan as well as local issues arising from development projects including the people’s heritage at Kampung Tanjong Tokong.

They were also briefed about the larger context of all these developments: the neo-liberal economic policies and the highly centralised federal system in Malaysia and the corresponding limitations on state autonomy.

The accompanying photos depict scenes of people’s participation and democratic space that we are enjoying today. The free space provided by Penang Forum needs to be cultivated further and sustained to ensure people’s participation and good governance.

Dr Soon Chuan Yean is an Aliran executive committee member.

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