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Book launch in Penang: Local Democracy Denied?

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From his six years experience serving in the Penang Island City Council, Dr Lim Mah Hui shares his perspectives on local government and the way forward to strengthening local democracy, which includes not only bringing back local elections but just as importantly encouraging more public participation.

  • Date: Sunday, 12 January 2020
  • Time: 2pm – 5pm
  • Venue: Lecture theatre 1, Wawasan Open University, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, Penang

The book, published by Gerakbudaya, will be available for sale at the launch for RM25.

About the book

There are plenty of books on federal government and politics in Malaysia but very few on local government. Yet it is the level of government that is closest to us and impacts our lives most directly and is the one least understood by the average person in the street. This book addresses that problem.

Local Democracy Denied? takes a unique and comprehensive approach to discussing local government – one that is political, analytical, personal, historical and forward-looking. It begins with the author’s personal journey to becoming a councillor for six years on the Penang Island City Council as a representative of civil society.

It then provides a brief history of how local government in Malaysia evolved from the election to selection of local councillors. There follows an examination of the structure of local government, its relationship with state governments, and some of the crucial functions it performs – planning, enforcement and provision of urban services, filled with real stories of how council decisions are made and implemented and the frequent gaps between the two.

The book ends with a call to revive local democracy by strengthening public participation in local government, empowering it and restoring local elections preferably based on proportional representation rather than first-past-the-post.

About the author

After careers in academia and banking which took him from New York to Jakarta, Singapore and Manila, Dr Lim Mah Hui returned to Penang and was nominated a city councillor on Penang Island City Council for six years (2011-16) representing Penang Forum. He has actively spoken out and worked for a more economically balanced and environmentally sustainable development in Penang.


This book fills a gap in and makes an important contribution to the literature on local government and democracy in Malaysia. It is based on the author’s experience as a city councillor in Penang Island. While analytically rigorous, it weaves interesting personal insights and stories to make the book highly readable. The last chapter provides suggestions on how to strengthen local government and democracy. – Zuraida Kamaruddin, Housing and Local Government Minister


The most important study of local government in Malaysia in decades. Told though a personal lens of a former city councillor and civil society activist on the frontlines in Penang, this book offers valuable insights into the challenges of democracy and good governance at the local level and raises crucial questions about land development, urban planning and the environment. – Bridget Welsh, Honorary Research Associate, University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNARI)

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