Penang is set to table a Local Government Elections (Penang Island and Province Wellesly) Bill 2012 in the State Assembly on Thursday.
The Bill is being seen as a test of the local government’s legal right to conduct elections for the two municipal councils in the state. The Bill provides for local elections to be held every three years.
Under the Bill, citizens 21 and above and resident in the state would be eligible to vote. I think this should be lowered to 18, and the requirement should be broadened to include all long-term residents of Penang.
I just hope that all state assembly members, including the 11 BN reps, vote for the restoration of local elections.
The City Council in Penang was the first council in the country to implement local council elections. As Johan Saravanamuttu observed in Aliran:
George Town had a particularly eminent history in terms of democracy at the local level. The first elections in Malaya were held there in 1951 to elect nine councilors. George Town was a “city council” (the only one) by virtue of the fact that it was granted city status by the British in January 1957. With the passage of the Local Government Act, 1960, a new Constitution was granted to the City Council of George Town from 1 April 1961. George Town was fully autonomous financially and was the richest local authority, with annual revenue almost double that of the State of Penang. Its Reserve Fund at the end of 1965 stood at some 6,037,535 Malaysian dollars.
The importance of local democracy was illustrated in Japan recently. Democratically elected local councils played a key role in the shutting down of the country’s 54 nuclear power plants. No mayor would dare to approve a resumption in the operations of nuclear power plants (that had been shut down for periodic inspection) in their locality knowing that his or her administration would have to face the wrath of voters in the next local council elections.