The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (BERSIH 2.0) is disappointed with Prime Minister Tun Mahathir’s announcement that there will be no election for local governments.The announcement is ill-advised and it is a step back in the further democratisation of the country.
The Pakatan Harapan government should have encouraged discussion and debates on the merits of restoring local government elections. More importantly, it should consult various stakeholders as a democratic process before making any official decision or public announcement.
Without proper exploration, the concerns expressed by the PM about racial conflicts and urban-rural divide is at best, speculative. In fact, we have not experienced any racial conflict following changes of state governments since 2008, change of federal government in 2018 as well as during Bersih and Anti-Icerd rallies. The PH government should give due recognition to Malaysian publics are rational and non-violence oriented.
It is also untrue that if local government elections are held, they will be dominated by non-Malays as the demography in urban areas have changed significantly since the 1960s. For example, according to the 2010 census data, the Malay population in Kuala Lumpur, stood at 49.5%, had outnumbered the population of Chinese, which was 43.2%. There is also no question as well that most of the local governments in the rural areas of the Peninsular would be represented by Malays in majority if elections are held.
Furthermore, such concerns of communal strife, even if it is a real concern, can be adequately addressed by exploring different designs of electoral systems, other than the existing First-Past-The-Post system, such as proportional representation systems. This will accommodate the unique concerns of different community and ensure a fair representation of all communities in local governments.
Local government elections is the rights of every ratepayer to have a say in who and how their local councils are managed. The current manner in which local councillors are appointed by ruling political parties is unacceptable as many are unqualified and are not accountable to the community they are supposed to serve.
Furthermore, such political appointments reinforce and perpetuate a culture of patronage that breeds corruption and abuses of power throughout the country. This is a legacy left behind by the previous government and the new Pakatan Harapan government should seize the opportunity to break free from such corrupt culture.
While we noted that the restoration of local government elections is not part of the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, it was nonetheless part of Pakatan Rakyat’s manifesto from the 12th General Elections. As such it should be given due consideration and not brushed aside in a speech.
It is our belief that the restoration of local government elections would transform the management of our councils, unite the different ethic groups over common local concerns that affects their daily lives, open up opportunities for new leaders to emerge and transform the political landscape of our country for the better.
Therefore, we urge the Prime Minister to keep an open-mind about local government elections and allow different stakeholders to discuss, debate and find the best solutions. This would allow citizens and ratepayers to engage in the running of the local councils and to hold mayors and councillors accountable for their services.
Steering Committee of BERSIH 2.0
(featured photo credit: Malaysiakini)