Political will needed to bring back local elections

Kenneth Cheng Chee Kin

IT is worth pondering why Cheras MP Tan Kok Wai has picked this moment to bring up the revival of local elections in Kuala Lumpur.

He may be pressured by the party’s rank and file to at least give lip service to the idea in the Kuala Lumpur DAP convention or to remind the party’s cabinet members to quicken the process of restoring local elections.

Whatever the Tan’s intentions were, the statement was probably another headache for DAP secretary-general cum Transport Minister Anthony Loke, who already has his hands full dealing with the backlash caused by Lim Kit Siang’s “non-Malay PM” remarks.

While doubts may arise over Tan’s timing, he is by no means wrong in calling for a restoration of local polls. Their merits have been well argued by many who reside in Putrajaya.

Some may think that Tan’s statement at this juncture may deepen the mistrust of Malays, but Pakatan Harapan’s attempt to bat away the subject does leave the impression that it is politically weak and shirking from issues that require strong leadership.

This political cowardice is best exemplified by Petaling Jaya MP and PKR communications director Lee Chean Chung. DAP, or more precisely Tan, ought to first engage with stakeholders before putting ideas up for public consideration.

I would be interested to know who are these stakeholders mentioned by Lee.

Were these “stakeholders” consulted when PKR called for “reinstating local elections with immediate effect” in its 2008 election manifesto?

If what was promised by politicians in 2008 is a thing of the past, PH’s recent manifesto has also promised to strengthen democracy and transparency in local government.

Therefore, contrary to Lee’s argument, the Cheras MP was not throwing out ideas from nowhere. You could even argue that he is merely repeating the election promise of this government.

The merits of local elections have been well explained. The democratic rights which most citizens would happily accept have been blighted by race and religion.

This is something that both the supporters and detractors of local elections, including Lee, are well aware of.

However, the advocates for local democracy are less clear about how to move forward in restoring local elections.

There are people within the PH establishment who strongly believe that this is a political hot potato that should be consigned to the recycle bin for PH to keep the Malay votes.

They believe local elections could only be restored when the majority of conservative Malays are convinced that such polls are not a DAP or Chinese ploy to seize power in the cities.

The former Serdang YB once argued through population data that Malays are increasingly the majority in urban areas and it is the Malay themselves who stand to gain the most from elected local councils.

Newly elected Bersih chairman Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz has also recently written a splendid article debunking the racialisation of local elections.

It is almost as if when it comes to local elections, prejudice, bias and racial anxiety prevail over transparency, accountability and the right to choose your local representative.

This is why the restoration of local elections is not about debates and discussion but a political leader who is not afraid of backlash and and willing to face down the detractors.

The only way to dispel the racialised myth of local elections is to let the public participate in local elections.

And until PH is prepared to do that, local elections will continue to be a fear-mongering tool happily wielded by its detractors for political expediency. – December 24, 2023.

* Kenneth Cheng has always been interested in the interplay between human rights and government but more importantly he is a father of two cats, Tangyuan and Toufu. When he is not attending to his feline matters, he is most likely reading books about politics and human rights or playing video games. He is a firm believer in the dictum “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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