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A Loophole for Local Elections?

A chance for reviving democracy in Malaysia.

Written by johnleemk on 11:10:08 am Jun 16, 2007.

At the moment, local governments in Malaysia are accountable only to the state government. This results in their only objective being sucking up to their superiors, while lording it over those they supposedly serve, the people.

Local government elections were suspended in the 1960s, due to the communist insurgency. They were later permanently abolished in the 1970s. The federal government has cited a number of unconvincing reasons, such as cost. (Really, if a bankrupt country like the Philippines can afford local elections, why can't we?)

Some political scientists have suggested that as local governments are appointed by the state government, the states could of their own initiative restore local elections. This appears to have been dimissed by the only party which controls a state, PAS, perhaps because democracy conflicts with their interpretation of Islam.

However, I think the Election Commission has correctly pointed out that local elections can only be restored by federal mandate, as they were abolished by a federal statute.

Does this mean the end for local elections? I am not well-versed in Malaysian public law, so I very well could be wrong, but I do not think so. There is an obvious, at least to me, loophole which the states can go through.

Simply hold elections, but don't call them elections. Instead, you could call them "non-binding straw polls" or some other such name. Because these would not be official elections, they would not be covered by the Local Government Act, and the Election Commission would not hold them — instead, these elections would be run by the state government.

The state government would simply poll the people, and then promise to appoint whoever is victorious. It's a brilliant sidestepping of the existing laws governing elections — simply don't call your election an election.

Of course, as I said earlier, there may be some arcane law which would prevent this apparent loophole from working. But nevertheless, this is an avenue worth exploring.

The federal system of government works by devolving autonomy to the people. There is no need for the federal government to interfere with the business of the state government; no need for the state government to interfere with the business of the local government; and no need for the local government to interfere with the business of the rakyat.

By restoring local elections, we can truly democratise our country, and restore accountability to our local government system. Only then will we see the level of services provided by our local governments raised.