Penang local vote applauded, might face EC hurdle

By Debra Chong (Malaysian Insider)
KUALA LUMPUR, March 6 — Penang’s decision to conduct local government elections for two municipalities after a 45-year hiatus has received good response, but some warned the Election Commission (EC) might refuse to comply.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng revealed today the state government has written to the EC to conduct local government elections for the Municipal Council of Penang Island (MPPP) and Municipal Council of Seberang Perai (MPSP).
Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan applauded the announcement, saying it was among the promises made by the fledgling DAP-PKR-PAS alliance when it came to power two years ago.
“Good! It shows the process of consultation with the public and that it is reaching out to the grassroots,” Ragunath told The Malaysian Insider in an immediate comment.
But he stressed that holding an official election must be decided by the federal government because of the “loophole” in the existing federal laws concerning polls.
“Without an amendment, I don’t think you can have local elections. I don’t think the EC is going to comply,” he said, referring to the letter written by Lim two days ago to the body empowered to carry out the election process.
Ragunath noted that the current practice of appointing local councillors was already within the state’s powers and that it could still carry out an informal election without the EC’s involvement.
“Like now, the state appoints the local councillors anyway,” he highlighted.
“You can do it like what Perak did and hold it on an informal basis. There’s no necessity for the EC to get involved,” he explained, referring to the toppled Perak Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government, which had provided for villagers to choose their own village heads.
Penang activist and Aliran member, Anil Netto congratulated the Penang government in his weblog,, saying it was a long-awaited move that came two days before PR’s second anniversary as the state government.
“It not only attempts to fulfil the Pakatan’s general election pledge but shows that the administration has listened to sentiment on the ground from civil society and public opinion that is strongly in favour of the restoration of local democracy,” he wrote.
He noted that Penang had asked the EC to conduct the elections, saying “in doing so, the Penang government has effectively lobbed the ball into the Election Commission’s court”.
“Now, don’t hold your breath for the Commission to respond positively. My guess is that the Commission will give all kinds of reasons for not holding the elections (though I hope I am proven wrong),” Netto said.
He also urged the state government not to be disheartened if the EC does not respond positively to the request to conduct the polls.
“A less than enthusiastic response from the Commission shouldn’t stop the Penang government from pressing ahead creatively.
“If the Penang government is serious about restoring local election, then there are all kinds of ways and means that some people have already suggested to maximise public participation in the selection of local councillors. These ways should be used as a prelude to the full restoration of local government elections,” Netto added.