It's not easy to have local council elections

Pearl Lee, NURUL HUDA JAMALUDDIN, Joseph Kaos Jr (The Malay Mail)
PETALING JAYA : The Opposition’s plan to reintroduce local council elections has hit yet another brick wall – in the same way similar plans fizzled out last year.
The obstacle remains the same — the Local Government Act does not provide for such elections and there is also a clear provision under the same Act for councillors to be appointed.
This was pointed out by Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Kong Cho Ha when responding to calls by Pakatan Rakyat (PR) States of Penang and Selangor for local council elections to be held soon.
“Conducting local government elections is not something which can happen overnight,” he said. While he declined to state his preference on local council elections, Kong said there may be different reasons behind such a move by PR State governments.
“To be fair, different people have different views. There are people who want to push for council elections for political reasons and also for other vested interests.”
He said holding local council elections could be a tedious process that can incur heavy costs.
Kong added: “It is simply going to lead to even more elections. Presently, local councillors are appointed every year. We can’t then expect local council elections to be carried out every five years.”
Further to such complications, Kong also said the logistics involved would be tremendous as many localities are involved and there is also a need to identify qualified voters.
“If a particular local council has 24 councillors, it might be cumbersome to identify who can vote for which candidate and in which area. Also, unlike parliamentary constituencies and State assembly seats, there can be more than one local council in a particular constituency.”
On having direct voting of mayors and council presidents, Kong said this was a different matter altogether.
He felt there was a need for a serious study to be carried out as such a change involved a host of legal technicalities.
As reported by The Malay Mail last July, the Selangor government had commissioned the Coalition for Good Governance (CGG) to conduct a seven-month study on the issue.
In our report, CGG chairman Maria Chin Abdullah had said: “Times have changed. We cannot think of cost as a valid reason for not holding local council elections.”
CGG’s Noel N. Dass had then said there was a serious need for these elections as the current system of political appointees in councils ensured accountability only to their political parties and the people in power.
“At the end of the day, the issues with the system need to be resolved. So, give accountability to the people,” noted Dass, a senior research analyst.
CGG comprises 26 civil society organisations seeking to promote and defend universal human rights, democratic governance, non-discrimination, equality and people’s participation.
The issue of local council elections rose again during the weekend when Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said he had written to the Elections Commission to conduct such a ballot for the Penang Municipal Council and the Seberang Prai Municipal Council.
On Sunday, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim had said the Selangor government would follow suit.
Local government elections were last held in 1961 and suspended in 1965.
The push for local council elections was one of the election promises by PR when campaigning during the 2008 general election.
Kuala Lumpur MPs have also pushed for the nation’s capital to have an elected mayor, reasoning that it could lead to more transparency and accountability in the system of governance at City Hall.
Fernandez: Local government elections long overdue
PETALING JAYA: Lawyer Derek Fernandez believes the reintroduction of local government elections is still viable despite it having been suspended since the communist Emergency.
He rebutted Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Kong Cho Ha’s statement that holding local council elections can be tedious.
“This local government elections are long overdue. It is an important part of local government,” said Fernandez.
“It is simple to identify who the voters are. It can be those who pay quit rent are or staying in the localities. It is no different than normal elections and can be easily done.”
As an example, Fernandez said, only one candidate is elected in a normal election.
But, for local government elections, the maximum number of candidates to be elected as councillors is 25 — including the mayor or council president.
“Basically, voters have to tick the names of 25 candidates instead of one.”
On Kong’s argument that one parliamentary area may cover two or three council areas, Fernandez said it made no sense because the zoning for a local council had nothing to do with parliamentary constituencies and State assembly seats.
“Local councils should set up new electoral borders for their areas. For example, an area that has 24 zones can elect 24 councilors,” said Fernandez.
He admitted that the arguments for and against the local council elections, without Federal government approval, are equally balanced.
Even though the right to hold elections was removed from Local Government Act 1976 and substituted by the power to appoint councillors, the federal government has the right to exclude any section from the Local Government Act 1976 from applying to the States.
As such, it is debatable whether the State government has the power to hold the election without Federal government consent.
“The right procedure for Pakatan Rakyat States to push for local government elections is to write to the Election Commission of Malaysia (EC). The EC will study the legislation involved and decide.
“If the Pakatan Rakyat States are not happy with the decision, they can challenge it in the High Court.
“I hope it would not be necessary and hope that the federal government will heed the call for local government elections in all States.”
Najib rejects call for local govt polls
PUTRAJAYA: Local council elections will only encourage politicking, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Najib, who was speaking at the National Civil Service Convention at Plenary Hall, Putrajaya International Convention Centre this morning, said the Federal government was not interested in restoring local council elections as it would not necessarily improve public services.
The Prime Minister was responding to the move by the Selangor and Penang governments to get the Elections Commission (EC) to conduct local government elections in the two States.
“We are of the opinion that the local government elections were abolished a long time ago, so there is no need to restore it,” said Najib.
“We want to improve services for the rakyat. By having the local council elections, the focus will be more on the political process.
“Those contesting will be more focused on campaigning.”
Local government elections were first held in 1951 before Merdeka but abolished in 1965 during the Confrontation with Indonesia.
The then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman promised they would be restored after the situation improved.