Do we need local council elections?

PENANG, March 25 (Bernama) -- The Election Commission's (EC) clarification that it cannot hold local council election as requested by the Penang and Selangor state government has probably put to an end the debate on the third vote.

On Wednesday, EC's chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusuf noted that following the repeal of the Local Government Election Act 1960 (Act 473), neither the commission nor the states have the authority to conduct the local council elections.

Section 10 of the Local Government Act 1976 (Act 171) stipulates that membership to a local council should be made through appointment only.

"It's not that the EC does not want to carry out the elections but the current law does not allow for them and if the states in the peninsula, including Penang and Selangor, planned to conduct local government elections, they should first decide on such laws," he said in a press conference.

Though EC's chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusuf gave his reasons based on the law, the perplexing question is whether the local council election is relevant in the present day context.

Is local council election relevant?

While Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng who made the proposal believed that the move will help transfer power back to the people and enhance local council administration, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak begged to differ fearing it only opens an avenue for greater politicking as proven by history.

A brief review of the local council elections history would shed some light why the third vote, after the vote for the state legislative body and Parliament was repealed.

Penang had the privilege of holding the first local council election in 1951 as the state had established the local government as early as 1856--theMunicipal Council of George Town (MCGT).

In 1952, Selangor became the second to witness local council election to elect members of the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council following the establishment of the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

The Penang Malay Association President Datuk Seri Yusof Latiff pointed out these initial elections were to expose locals to the political system that Malaya would inherit from Britain.

It is no doubt that these euphoric local elections gave rise to many political parties and personalities, but their significance waned when the general election came into the picture.

Overlapping roles

In 1955, the Alliance won the first general election and Penang had a state government headed by MCA with Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee being the first chief minister.

A decade later, in 1965, the local council election was suspended temporarily following the Malaysia-Indonesia Confrontation and the town council administration came under the State Government.

Moreover, the Socialist Front dominated town council and Alliance dominated state assembly could not see eye to eye on many matters.

Yusof, the former Jelutong Umno division head, recalled how the local council snubbed the Chief Minister of Malaya Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Penang state government over the Emergency Free Day celebration on 31 July 1960.

"Tunku wanted all government buildings lit up and the flags hoisted for the celebration but the town council even refused to recognise the celebration," he said.

This local council's defiance prompted Wong to convene a special sitting of the state assembly to amend the state ordinance empowering the Chief Minister in appointing George Town's mayor.

Yusof also pointed out that in the event the local council election is revived, there would be two executive positions - the Mayor and Chief Minister--and antagonism between both sides would affect the administration.

Realising of these problems and being aware that the two executive positions only creates power play, the Penang Umno Youth petitioned the Tunku to abolish local council election.

A difficult scenario

By then there were already calls to abolish the local council election and this prompted Tunku to establish a royal commission to gather feedback on the need to continue with the local council election.

The commission headed by MIC Vice President Athi Nahappan went all over the nation to gather feed back on the matter and concluded that though the local council election had contributed to the democratic process, the general election should take precedence.

Subsequently, in 1970 the local council election was abolished and George Town lost its city status after Penang's second Chief Minister (Tun) Dr Lim Chong Eu dissolved the City Council and replaced it with the Penang Town Council (MPPP) to administer the whole island.

Why revive the local council election?

The demise of the local council elections had not in any way deterred the political or the democratic process of the nation. In fact it had eliminated a messy affair and reduced politicking. It was part of the nation's democratic and political maturity. Any attempt to revive the local council election now is probably a step in regression.

But then why did the PKR-ruled Penang and Selangor state governments decided to revive the local council election in the first place?

Though being aware of the pros and cons, PKR chose to go ahead as the party already promised the agenda to the people in its manifesto during the last general election.

A political Science lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Dr Sivamurugan Pandian urged the state government to look into what the people wanted and not just go ahead with its proposal to seek political gains.

"The state government should seek the views of the people if they really want local council elections or otherwise," he said.

"The question here is what is there to achieve through the local council election and wouldn't the general election suffice?" he asked.

Even before EC came out with its clarification Yusof had said that the Penang state government's proposal probably would not see the light of the day because feasibility studies on reviving the local council election have shown it serves no purpose.

"Moreover, the local council election was not abolished without good reason, an in-depth study has been undertaken on the matter but why now both states want to revive the local council elections?" he asked.

EC's clarification has prompted Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim to explore other avenues to make way for local council elections but the question remains do we really need the local council elections when the present system has served us well. (By AZEMAN ARIFFIN/Bernama)

MySinchew 2010.03.25