Local elections still a dream

The Sun
OVER the weekend, a group of like-thinking individuals sat at the Royal Lake Club to talk about reforming local councils and the election of councillors in particular. Media reports quoted one of the speakers, journalism lecturer Wong Chin Huat, as saying that the Pakatan Rakyat-governed states must be pushed to revive local elections.
Having campaigned and pushed for election of councillors for a long, long time, such views may be wishful thinking, but it’s not going to happen. No government – PR or BN – is going to opt for elected representation in local councils.
Ask Petaling Jaya councillor Derek Fernandez who wrote about how the state could call for local government elections without amending the federal constitution. His opinion must be gathering dust in a steel cabinet in the state secretariat building in Shah Alam.
“Why not?” would be the obvious question. From what we have seen in Penang, Perak and Selangor, there’s no room for people’s representation. The composition of councils in these states shows that there’s room for only supporters and cronies. Having promised local elections in their campaigns, what was delivered was short of expectations. But do they care about public sentiments and expectations? Do they care about residents’ groups, civil society and community leaders in the decision-making process? Do they care about the mandate given by the people?
No dear readers, a big NO because they have to look after and satisfy those who helped put them there. They have to appease only a handful of hard core supporters and party workers, not the majority of the people who voted them in. For a good three weeks, leaders of the three parties in power were busy horse trading – who gets what. In the process, we the people became the victims of the inter and intra-party squabbles and people’s representation had to be compromised to make way for the interests of politicians and their parties.
And when pointed out to them that they have to include this group of people, they have the audacity to say: “We never promised to appoint them?”
“Oh Yes, we have included members of the public!” they would retort, but the next question would be: “How many – what percentage?” Having a handful for the sake of dressing up the representation is like having nothing at all. When councils are packed with politicians, the old malaise of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” will come to the fore. With a council packed with politicians, the people’s voices will be drowned by the power of the majority. Will there be voices of reason or voices of interested parties and the businesses and the millions?
Never mind the fact that the Local Government Act says that those appointed must have expertise in a specific area or are well-versed in local government affairs. Look at the list and the facts stare at your face.
Wong, the other speakers and the motley crowd which attended the talk on local elections, were there with good intentions. They represented the larger interests of society but sorry to say, their voices are going to be lost in the wilderness of politicking and the art of diplomacy.
Another speaker, DAP parliamentarian Liew Chin Tong was quoted as saying: “Parties are important to make consolidated decisions.” Whatever that means, it is a telling statement indeed.
Three months ago, when I criticised the composition of the councils in Penang at a forum organised by Ipoh City Watch, party supporters took umbrage and confronted me, saying: “You cannot say such things. It’s only two months. Give us time.” Time to do what? Horse trading and manoeuvring so that the cronies benefit?
Would those who were members of the “Shadow MPPJ” who are now sitting in their air-conditioned offices care to give their views? Or are they waiting to be challenged to a debate?
It took the PR government four months to appoint councillors in Selangor, after several postponements. Were councils in the list of priorities? No, they were at the bottom of the ladder while those in power were busy trying to appease their supporters. As I said in a previous column, nothing has changed except for the abbreviations – BN has become PR; MIC, MCA and Umno have become DAP, PAS and PKR. Remember the demonstration by PKR members over the lack of “proper party representation in local councils” outside the MB’s office after the list was announced? That in a nutshell, says everything – We want 100% of the spoils.

R. Nadeswaran is passionate about the way local councils are managed and run and has written extensively on the need for elected representation.