Local govt polls: Penang, S’gor not backing down

By CHRISTINA CHIN and EDWARD R. HENRY (The Star)
PETALING JAYA: The Penang and Selangor governments will push on to restore local government elections in their states despite a clear signal by the Barisan Nasional-led Federal Government that it is against the idea.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said he was willing to meet with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to explain the need for local government elections.
“I don’t agree with his stand and am more than willing to explain to him why Penang wants to restore local government elections,” he told a press conference in GEORGE TOWN on Wednesday.
“The Federal Government doesn’t seem keen on having it so this will be a real test of independence for the Elections Commission.
“I hope the Commission will have a discussion with us before deciding on the matter,” said Lim.
He was responding to Najib’s statement on Tuesday that reviving local government elections would only give rise to increased politicking and would not serve the purpose of improving services to the people.
Lim however said that “local government elections will ensure that the councillors selected are accountable. This will result in better performance.”
“Out of 192 countries in the world, 101 conduct local government elections. We want to be part of the latter group,” he said.
Refuting criticisms that local government elections would be costly, Lim said he did not understand why “certain quarters” were against returning power to the people.
“The Commission would have to bear the cost but we can always discuss (how we can contribute).
“It is shocking that the Commission has said that it does not have any experience holding such elections, but this should not be an excuse.
“So long as we agree in principle to have the elections, the rest can be settled,” he said.
Restoring local government elections was part of the Opposition’s campaign manifesto in the 2008 general election.
On March 4, the Penang government sent a letter to the Commission calling for local elections to be restored.
Commission chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof later said he would ask the Attorney-General’s Chambers to study the relevant laws on whether local elections could be held before the Commission took a stand on the issue.
In SHAH ALAM, the Selangor government remained adamant that the Commission must restore local government elections.
Its Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said the state felt such elections was much needed in a democratic framework where the common people would be able to vote for those who could serve them well.
Asked if Selangor would press on with the elections even if the Commission was against it, Khalid said legal experts were divided on the issue.
Local government elections were first suspended during the Emergency era in the 1960s, then made permanent with the Local Government Act 1976.