Let’s expose the lame excuses against holding local government elections! They are saying that the locals don’t need to be given the choice on who lead them! Extend this argument to the state and federal level-then you know you are in the company of Mugabe, Marcos, Suharto etc.
Local elections: nuts and bolts
MARCH 11 — They bring retail politics into our lives. They give us power.
After all the ruminations and posturing by the present government of Malaysia, their objections to local elections are self-defeating.
Let’s look at some of them.
The obvious one has been about the logistics of running local elections.
The Election Commission (EC) claims a whole slew of processes have to be added, learnt and adopted fairly so the core objective of the said election is not tainted.
For example, the non-existence of an electoral roll specifically for each of the local councils, 12 in the example of Selangor.
There are 22 parliamentary seats in the Seladang state and not all seats fall completely into a particular council.
A starting point is that all the voters of Selangor are also “declared” residents of any one of the 12 local councils. The EC just has to co-ordinate their data with all the local councils, and ensure all those in the dubious zones are tagged to the council they actually live in.
Each local council in Selangor is already divided into 24 zones with a councillor posted to it. This could be the template, voters in each zone will choose one councillor, and also vote for a mayor. So they only fill in two separate ballots. This will produce 25 councillors — including the mayor — and the Sultan’s representative can sit on the board without a vote.
The fear is about double-votes, which can be avoided with the appropriate scrutiny. The same situation is already replicated in the constant redrawing of parliamentary/state districts, where people are chucked into new districts from old ones and vice versa. The EC manages to adjust effortlessly in those instances, and this should assure us that they would be able to do the same for local elections.
The system only has to ensure transferring or transferred persons are in the roll for their new seats, and not remain in their previous districts’ roll.
The councils have detailed records of their residents’ addresses in digital form since it is crucial for quit rent collection. The EC’s vote centre allocations are built on voters’ declared home addresses.
The spectre of phantom voters does not exist any more than it would in your general election/by-election, and the EC as it stands vehemently denies widespread cheating in those elections. Therefore it is less or just as likely not to have cheating in local elections.
Which leads to the second, institutional capacity. The physical demands of local elections are no more greater than general elections. For example in Selangor you would be using the same number of polling stations, polling centres and counting centres.
And if the vote is a “first past the post” as in all our other elections, it would not require any further training for the EC volunteers except for some reorientation that does not amount to dealing with a different fish.
The seeming winning argument, which is also the blandest one, is money. In times of economic uncertainty, it is unwise to mount an exercise that costs money to the taxpayer.
You can always argue about better-spending money, but the scarcity of money does not mean you cut indiscriminately. It means you reprioritise the present expenditures together with other planned expenditures and balance them.
Suffrage is the building block of a democratic state. Unless we would like to excuse ourselves from that category, then we have to provide better reasons to forfeit local elections other than pointing at the economy.
The real objection? Loss of power primarily, which is seen through several affections.
There will be not as much money for candidates from the Barisan Nasional, since there would be 300 contests just in Selangor.
Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya, which would be the largest township in terms of population, would have 323,872 persons if every voter in Kelana Jaya, Subang, Petaling Jaya Utara and Selatan were clumped together based on voter figures for 2008. But I’ll push it up to 400,000 just to be nice.
There would be 16,667 voters on average for each 24 zone. With even high 80 per cent show up for voting day you end up with 13,334 likely voters. A win would only take 6,668 votes.
Place a local with close ties with the community, the winning likelihood grows exponentially, and it would not matter which party he or she is from.
It is a great access point for those who want to serve, not certain of party allegiances but have strong local presence. The common barrier to entry for new contestant has always been the prohibitive barrier for entry. Local elections are doable for your modest income earner, or someone quite modest with strong local support.
Second, they force highly localised issues to be debated. Since the objective is not to over-run a state or the Federal government, the emphasis will be about the immediate practical concerns of the residents.
Every debate about better government does not have to be about billion dollar scandals or failing national education. At the local council level, people just need better service roads, cleaner drains, amenities and development approvals which meet the local community’s aspirations, not the state or federal government’s.
That is why the Brickendonberry council can reject our proposal for a high performance centre in their township because that is not the type of thing they wanted to be built in their town.
No prime minister or minister can tell them otherwise.
Voters will be less risk averse in voting their choices. Since councillors are not about to run the state or country, their concern about overall stability in the country is placated by the extent of the powers councillors hold.
This might just lead people to vote for better people rather than those who meet their demographical sentiments.
It is a good place to build the democratic spine of a country. That is exactly why the first election in the country was the Local Elections of Kuala Lumpur, 1952.
More women are likelier to be voted in, since their details orientation coupled with their qualifications will not be doused easily by political stereotyping in high office. That is why in America, at local government levels women have their highest representation ratio compared to other levels of government.
It reduces our fear of choosing, it reduces our fear to lead.
Local elections are all about positives, which might be the very reason the powerful loathe it.
*The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
Praba Ganesan is a Hulu Langat boy with a penchant for durians and debate. He is part of balairakyat, an NGO promoting ideas exchange. More of him at prabaganesan.