A unique electoral exercise in Penang state, promoting participatory and gender-responsive decision-making at the grassroots level, may serve as a cue for the revival of local elections in Malaysia.
Over three consecutive days, ending 23 September, low-income residents of high-rise flats on River Road, Penang Island, cast ‘ballots’ to compellingly indicate to planners their priorities.
Penang state consists of two parts – Penang Island, where the seat of government is, and Seberang Perai on the Malay peninsula. With a population of 1.5 million people Penang is an economically important state with a thriving tourist industry and port.
Before the polls, organisers had carried out a detailed census of 530 homes in and found 1,667 eligible ‘voters’ (aged 10 and above) in the two participating blocks.
The residents, divided into five focus groups, discussed six key priorities for final polling: building maintenance (lifts, water pipes, roof leakages), cleanliness of common areas, recreational amenities, parking areas, better security and awareness raising programmes.
On the polling days, volunteers handed out booklets containing five coupons of token money – each coupon representing ‘100 ringgit′. The residents then cast these five coupons in one or more of six boxes laid out in a row – each box representing one of the six pre-identified priorities.