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Why not have local elections?

Voters casting their ballots enthusiastically at Penang Forum 3's experimental local council poll in 2010

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Ramon Navaratnam pleads with the new government to review the decision to reject local council elections.

Many Malaysians are still surprised and taken aback by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s unexpected announcement – after the rally to oppose the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – that local elections would not be held in the country.

The people ask why and for how long they will be denied the right to vote for our local council representatives.

The prime minister also did not give a full explanation or provide any deep justification for the removal of such a fundamental peoples right in any democracy and for the denial for our democracy to further mature and develop in the future.

Hence the prompt press statement by Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia entitled “Start village elections to allay Malays’ fear’, is most welcome.

But here again, why do we assume that we need to  “start with village elections to allay Malays’ fear”? This is not only an important Malay issue, but a holistic national Malaysian matter. It relates to all races in Malaysia and is not exclusive.

So why do we need to differentiate Malays from non-Malays and indeed all Malaysians in this vital aspect of democracy and good governance at the ground level?

However, as Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia has rightly pointed out, the “absence of local elections is harming the interests of Malays who now make up the majority in most cities and towns”.

I would add that non-Malays will also suffer and lose out from not having local council elections.

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Actually, all Malaysians will suffer from not having local council elections, for the following reasons:

Firstly, Malaysian citizens’ human rights, fundamental freedom and the basic need to enjoy the right to vote for their representatives at the very foundation of our democracy, at the grassroots level, will be denied. Is that what we Malaysians need or want?

Hence, we need a thorough clarification by the government as to why our basic right to vote for local councils will continue to be rejected in the new Malaysia?

It is contradictory to encourage general elections and to seek to improve the Electoral Commission while rejecting local council elections.

Would the same logic be used someday to reject general elections? Would some leaders use the argument of  “the fear of ethnic conflicts” to reject general elections when politically expedient, at some time in the future?

How do racial considerations come into the picture when deciding whether to have or to reject local elections? Are there are no racial feelings shown at the ballot box for the federal and state elections which have been generally carried out freely and fairly for 14 elections since Merdeka?

So why are racial considerations now being used as some kind of reason for rejecting local elections?

We all know that the quality of public and community services provided by local councils are not first rate. We are also aware that local problems like poor garbage collection, street lighting, transport, clogged drains, dirty wet market facilities and conditions, the neglect of the environment and inefficiencies are quite characteristic of local governments.

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Elected and not just appointed local council officials will be more accountable to local residents if the officials are elected. If they are unsuitable or corrupt, they can be thrown out of office. There can be better checks and balances on their performance so that they serve the public better.

The public and especially voters need more and better justification for the new government’s rejection of local council elections in the interest of good governance and fairness. We have been looking forward to more transparency, integrity, efficiency, national unity and closer collaboration between the new government and the rakyat. We hope we now get it!

All these legitimate and high expectations of the public will be badly let down if the new government’s unfortunate and sudden decision to reject local council elections is not met with more explanation, justification and care for the welfare of the rakyat.

Appeal to government

So like many or most Malaysians, I appeal to the government to review the decision to reject local council elections.

Alternately, the government can postpone the holding of local elections within a limited timeframe. But please hold local government elections, well before the next general election.

We can start the election process early, with kampong elections as thoughtfully proposed by the Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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