Monday, March 15, 2010

Local polls: 'All in state gov't hands'

Who needs the intervention of the Election Commission (EC) or even the court, when the law offers the state government ways to organise local government elections?

The Coalition for Good Governance (CCG) identified the main paths in a 55-page advocacy paper entitled 'Bring Back Local Government Elections', which was commissioned by the Selangor government.

The Penang and Selangor governments revived debate on the issue after being criticised in some quarters for not delivering on the Pakatan Rakyat 2008 election manifesto.

azlanPenang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said last week that he had written to the EC, requesting that polls be held for posts in the state's two municipal councils. There has been no response as yet.

Wong Chin Huat, one of the authors of the paper, said the Penang government does not have to accept the EC's decision as final or think that nothing can be done if the EC refuses to conduct the polls.

In outlining the options available, Wong said the state government can change the law governing local government elections to force the EC's hand.

Section 15 of the Local Government Act 1976 prohibits local elections. However, Section 1 allows the state government to exempt itself from any limitation to exercise of its power under the Act.

In such a scenario, the EC may have to go to court to question the constitutionality of the move, Wong said when contacted.

Should the state government succeed, it would need a law to enable the holding of local polls. For this, it can refer to the Local Government Election Act 1960, which confers that power.

sisters in islam anti book banning book burning campaign 190808  wong chin huat"Alternatively, the state government could enact a law for local polls. The EC will then be legally obliged to execute the task unless it successfully challenges the constitutionality of the legislative move," said Wong (right).

If the EC wins its case in court, all is still not lost because the state can always hold a mock election, using its administrative powers.

This process, which would bypass the EC, would be similar to the appointment of the Village Development and Security Committee, where representatives are first elected and then appointed by the state government.

"So we can conduct an election of nominees to the council seats, and those elected will be appointed by the state," he said.

The CCG paper suggested that the EC's role can be filled by a local government selection commission comprising non-partisan representatives and academics to ensure a transparent and accountable process.

'Calculated move?'

All said and done, however, Wong questioned whether the Pakatan-led state governments are really eager to fulfil their election promise on the issue.

He thought it “calculated” that the Penang government had publicised its action just days before the second anniversary of Pakatan's 2008 electoral gains.

azlanWong said some Pakatan politicians, including those in PAS, have reservations about local polls.

This, he said, could be based on the fear that the coalition would lose control of administration if elected councillors come from the Barisan Nasional - which forms the opposition in Pakatan-led states - or do not cooperate with the state government.

"Currently, it is a winner-takes-all situation where the councillors are political appointees. This makes it easy to manage the state," he said.

Such appointments are also a means of rewarding loyal supporters of the party in power.

Wong added that posts in local councils are seen as “compensation for lack of material rewards in joining an opposition party”.

Local council elections were suspended, but not abolished, in 1964.

courtesy of Malaysiakini

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