The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0) welcomes the statement by Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin regarding introducing local government level elections within three years whereby township and cities may elect their own mayors (‘datuk bandar’) or the president of local council.
We commend the minister for moving this important public agenda of restoring the local government elections. It is long overdue as local government elections were suspended due to the proclamation of emergency amidst the Indonesian-staged Confrontation in 1965, which ended following the stepping down of President Sukarno in the same year. However, the local government elections in Malaysia have not been restored since.
The appointment of local councillors by state government since 1976 is a subversion of our three-tiered governments that voters can no longer choose different parties for their state government and local authority as the party governing at State-level will decide the local authority. This perpetuated massive political patronage and corruption for decades with no accountability to the public as they only answered to the political masters that appointed them.
The Pakatan Harapan government should not repeat the same mistake of the past Barisan Nasional administration. Instead, it should show to the voters that it is different from the Barisan Nasional government which choose political patronage over empowering the people. The current government should display its political commitment to strengthening local democracy in the country by returning the third vote to the people.
BERSIH 2.0 urges Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin to consult with all stakeholders, including various NGO’s during the 6-month study period when the ministry will be gathering relevant input in regards to the design and implementation of the local government elections.
In the 1950s and 1960s, voters chose local councillors and the majority parties in the councils that formed the local governments, whose policies and orders were then carried out by the council bureaucracy.
Direct election of mayors, as the head of executive branch, is a welcomed proposal to give a powerful mandate to introduce reform and modernisation in the Federal Territories which has no whatsoever elected state-level institutions, as well as big cities that need bold transformation. In cities with directly elected mayors, elected local councils are still needed as the legislative branch to provide the check and balance of the executive.
In smaller local jurisdictions where a directly-elected major may not be necessary, local council as the legislative branch must be elected and it will indirectly elect Council presidents and their cabinets, as how the parliamentary system is practiced at the federal and state levels.
BERSIH 2.0 believes the responsiveness, efficiency and effectiveness of local governments will be enhanced in the long run with the local government elections restored where voters are able to choose the best candidates to manage local governments.
BERSIH 2.0 Steering Committee