Before local government can be revived, there should be some kind of campaign finance reform and a regulatory framework on campaigning, says our correspondent.
I confess to being a sceptic on local government elections, in our context, as well as in the context of the evolution of politics in the world over the past quarter century or more.
However, if it’s going to happen, there should minimally be something to regulate campaign financing, or some kind of campaign finance reform, and also a regulatory framework on campaigning — both of them enforced and enforceable. Currently, we have seen massive inflation in campaign financing, and a regulatory framework on campaigning enforced in the breach or one-sidedly.
Older Penangites probably remember with some fondness (and romanticism) those days when the Socialist Front’s local council election campaigns would fill the Padang Brown, and no one had much funds to throw at anything. But as is clear, we are a long, long way from those days — not just here but everywhere in the world. And it would be pointless if, at the end of it, we get an electocracy, not a democracy: as we all know, elections are far from being a sufficient condition for democracy.
So, while the government may be pushing for local elections, I think NGOs should be putting in their bit on the terms and conditions under which elections are held — and it’s likely easier to do it at the beginning, then trying to change it once it’s been set. Else, we may well end up with local elections, under the same auspices, overseen by the same body… to what end?