Why we need local elections, why states must have more power and resources

Speech by DAP Johor Chairman and MP for Kluang Liew Chin Tong at DAP Bakri Chinese New Year Open House in Bukit Bakri on 1st March 2015

Fifty years ago, on 1st March 1965 Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Alliance Government “temporarily” suspended all local elections ostensibly as a part of the response to the Konfrontasi launched by the Sukarno-led Indonesian Government. The Tunku also did promise a return to normalcy once the hostility ends.

However, what was meant to be temporary has become permanent for the past fifty years with no sign of the return of local elections.

Please note that having local elections is not the sole solution to all problems facing the Malaysian nation. Far from it.

Nevertheless, democratisation at the local level has proven to be catalyst for improvement in the quality of life in many newly-democratised nations in the past three decades, particularly in the cases of South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia.

Malaysia is now stuck in a situation in which any discussion on any substantive reform can be misconstrued and misrepresented in racial terms. The subject of local elections, unfortunately, suffers such a fate. It shouldn’t be.

For Malaysia to move forward, there is a need for us to re-examine the institutional framework we are operating in. The immediate priority is, of course, to create and secure democratic institutions with integrity and free from corruption.

Beyond that, there is a need for:

  • Decentralisation of powers from the Federal Government to the States

  • Strengthening the State governments

  • Making local governments fully accountable to the voters through elections.

While there may not need to be a timetable per se, there is a need for Malaysians to start the conversation on what sort of institutions we need to put in place for a better society.

I am sure local democracy is one of those items. As long as we discard racial politics, we may be able to see the real benefits of local elections for Malaysians. I hope we don’t have to wait for another fifty years to reverse the cycle.

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