Co-President, Gan Ping Sieu on Restoring Local Elections
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
The Government should not be held ransom by racists and bigots when it comes to the proposal to re-introduce local elections. By caving in to demands and pressure from extremists, the government risks making such people more bold with their divisive agendas. The government's role and responsibility is to manage such fissures, including using the full force of the law to act against agent provocateurs.

In this context, the Prime Minister's decision not to go ahead with plans to re-introduce local elections because it may cause racial-religious strife is disappointing. This decision came on the back of the government's decision not to ratify ICERD and the police's directive to postpone last week's Human Rights Day celebrations. Both incidents were perceived as the authorities giving in to bullies who fan racial-religious sentiments. As a moderate, plural country we should not allow extremism to take root and spread.

Many senior Pakatan Harapan leaders had in the past promoted the idea of re-introducing local elections. The new government should not dial back on its reform agenda using the possibility of racial strife as an excuse. The importance of reintroducing The Third Vote was highlighted in a CENBET survey carried out earlier this year which showed that 79% of respondents regarded independence of local authorities as important but only 40% were satisfied with its performance.

Moving forward, the Federal government should come up with a roadmap on the restoration of local elections, starting with the city and municipal councils. At a time where the public demands for greater transparency and accountability, re-introducing the Third Vote is a natural progression.

The current system of appointing councillors entrenches political patronage and breeds abuses as these office-bearers are not directly accountable to rate-payers and the local community. It is time the Pakatan Harapan government break free from past practices in the spirit of the New Malaysia with wider engagement with stakeholders and consensus building when it involves advancing the reform agenda.

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