PR must make clear its plan on council elections

By the Coalition for Good Governance
editor at thenutgraph dot com

THE Coalition for Good Governance (CGG) is concerned by the article Pakatan tones down electoral reforms, published on The Malaysian Insider on 15 Dec 2009. According to the report, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR), in its coming national convention, may not include local council elections in its Common Policy Framework.
The CGG would like to remind member parties of the Pakatan Rakyat of the commitments made to the rakyat at various platforms prior to and during 2008 general election. They include:
PKR’s Manifesto 2008 promised in item nine of its vision for a constitutional state to “reinstate with immediate effect local elections for municipal and local councils to create greater accountability at every level of government.”
The DAP, both through its campaign on The Third Vote: Restore Local Government Elections and its 2008 Election Manifesto, reiterated its call to “implement local government elections to ensure accountability and efficiency.”
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), whose membership include all three Pakatan Rakyat component parties, also promised “the need to re-introduce elections for local authorities at city, municipal, district and village levels, with an electoral system which is free and fair, and enables Malaysians to participate actively.”
The People’s Declaration, which all three Pakatan Rakyat component parties endorsed during the 2008 elections, also upheld the principle of local elections.
The CGG believes that the PR must be clear on its plan to “strengthen local democracy”, which must include local council elections and not just administrative reforms. Prior to March 2008, the major frustration of the rakyat is the lack of accountability, transparency, excessive and uncontrolled spending of local councils.
Some of these issues remain. For example, presently all local council budgets are prepared by the councils, without prior consultation with the citizens. Citizens are given little time to provide the feedback and there is very little details regarding the budget lines.
Through local elections, people can decide on who fits the job and best represent their interests, rather than political appointees who have to toe party lines. It can also provide political momentum for further reform to root out red tape, inefficiency, corruption, and other administrative malpractices.
While the PR state governments may have reservations to conduct local elections under current administrative structures, they must communicate their concerns frankly to the public and seek innovative solutions. Legal obstacles are simply too poor excuses for delaying local elections. Informed urban residents will not buy this.
To keep its political credibility, the CGG calls for a high-powered dialogue between the PR and civil society on local elections. The CGG also calls upon member parties of the Barisan Nasional to state their position to bring back local council elections at all state levels.
Maria Chin Abdullah
Executive Director, Empower
Chairperson, Coalition for Good Governance
16 Dec 2009