No local government elections after years of hope

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 – Another long-held hope among supporters of the new federal government has been torn to shreds, with the official announcement by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday that Malaysia will not carry out any local government elections.

For many years since 2008, after Selangor and Penang were administered by the then federal opposition parties, that is DAP and PKR, the promise had been for there eventually to be local government elections in place should they one day take over Putrajaya.

That day came on May 9, with Barisan Nasional losing the 14th general election to the Pakatan Harapan coalition comprising PKR, DAP, Amanah and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).

The first mention of local government election possibly taking place was revealed by Housing and Local Government Ministry Zuraida Kamaruddin on May 26, shortly after her appointment to the Cabinet.

She said her ministry would study the matter in six months’ time (November), but stressed that local government elections could only be held at the earliest in three years’ time (2021), “after the nation’s finances and economy stabilises”.

Zuraida had also been reported saying that time was also needed to allow laws such the Election Act 1958 to be amended for the purpose.

In the meantime, she said the respective local councils will continue with the current system of appointing 24 local councillors from among community leaders.

Mahathir: Local polls will cause racial conflict

However, when launching the Local Council Convention hosted by her ministry in Putrajaya today, Mahathir as saying there will be no such elections to elect mayors, councillors at the city and town councils across the country, The Star reported.

He said local government elections may end up causing race-related conflicts in the country.

“Local council elections may produce the wrong results. The urban may be different, the rural may be different. There will be conflicts emphasised by racial differences and the like. So we don’t want that to happen,” he was quoted as saying.

Interestingly, Pakatan Harapan did not include having local government elections as part of its GE14 manifesto pledges.

Now Lim says manifesto comes first, not local government elections

DAP leaders from Penang, including the former chief minister Lim Guan Eng, who is now Finance Minister, have been silent on the issue of local government elections since PH took over Putrajaya.

They had previously claimed, since 2008, that the state government could not proceed with the local government elections it wished to have in the state due to resistance from the former Barisan Nasional government.

Lim finally spoke up yesterday, with the strange argument that because local government elections were not mentioned in the PH manifesto it was not a priority and pledges made by the coalition needs to be prioritised.

That went against everything Mahathir and even Attorney-General Tommy Thomas had been saying about the manifesto not being a “bible”, or “holy book”, or “having any legal implication”. In other words, PH did not have to keep their manifesto pledges.

Local government election history

After achieving independence in 1957, the then Malaya held local government elections.

However, there were no local government elections after 1963. This was because the government suspended any such election in 1964 and 1965, officially stating that it was due to the confrontation with Indonesia.

Eventually, the temporary suspension was not lifted and in 1976, it became permanent when Parliament passed the Local Government Act which only provided for appointed councillors, thus abolishing local government elections.

– NMT