Elected local government in Malaysia

Speech by DAP Malacca State Chairman and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr Lim Kit Siang, at the official opening of the Kota Utara DAP Branch in Malacca on Friday, 17th September 1971 at 3pm

Elected local government in Malaysia

The Minister for Local Government, Dato Ong Kee Hui, said last week that the State governments had agreed with the Federal Government that elected local councils and Municipalities should be abolished.

I do not know whether the State government had communicated these views to Dato Ong officially or informally, but whether officially or informally, these views are improper and unauthorized, as none of the State Assemblies had debated or decide on the future of elected local government in the country.

We know that the Alliance run State Governments and the Gerakan-controlled Penang state government want to abolish elected local governments so that they can concentrate greater powers in their hands – regardless of the welfare and interest of the ratepayers.

Thus, although the Gerakan Ra’ayat Malaysia campaigned for immediate restoration of Municipal and local councils to elected councilors, the first thing Dr. Lim Chong Eu did as Penang Chief Minister, with the blessing of his former colleagues Prof. Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas and Dr. Tan Chee Khoon, was to take over all the district councils on the Penang Island.

In the other states, the Alliance had taken over Municipalities and town councils, like the Malacca Municipality, the Johore Bahru and Batu Pahat town councils and the Seremban town council in Negri Sembilan.

The DAP holds that before any State Government give its official stand to the Federal Government on the proposed abolition of local government, it should have a full-scale debate in the State Assembly to hear the views of the elected representatives in the State.

The proposed abolition of elected local government is a fundamental issue, which goes to the very roots of democracy. If elected town councils and Municipalities are abolished, it will not only spell the death of grassroots democracy, it will be a grave blow to the democratic system in the country, and lead the way to authoritarian or totalitarian forms of government.

Democracy in Malaysia is a very fragile plant, and if it is to take root, it must be nurtured into a sturdy and viable tree, by encouraging the people to participate fully in the democratic process of the country, and imbibing in them the democratic spirit.

This is best achieved by allowing the people to run and administer their local government through elected Municipalities and town councils.

An elected Municipality or town council will also be more responsible and responsive to the needs for the ratepayers. Being elected by the people, it will be able to uphold social justice better, where the claims of those in hardship or distress comes first before all other claims.

This is best illustrated by the example of Malacca Municipality, which was taken over by the Malacca State Government for four years. Of late, in particular after the announcement by Dato Ong Kee Hui of proposed abolition of local government, the Malacca Municipality seemed to have become more inefficient, more brazen in its disregard of the legitimate needs of the ratepayers.

The DAP strongly opposes any attempt to abolish elected Municipalities, town and local councils. As this matter is so fundamental and important, the DAP calls on the government to initiate a full-scale nation-wide debate on the proposed abolition of elected local government before taking any action.

I hereby propose five steps for the government to take:

1. Immediately release the Athi Nahappan Report on Local Government, which was first established six years ago.

2. Hold television and radio forums, where leaders of all political parties and prominent public figures can take part, to discuss the desirability of abolishing elected local government.

3. Holding of full-scale debate in every State Assembly on the government’s proposed abolition of local government.

4. Full-scale debate in Parliament on the issue before any decision is taken.

5. A referendum on this question, so that the people can give their views on a fundamental question. A referendum on this issue is particularly vital as the Alliance Federal Government and the State Government had no mandate from the electorate in the 1969 general elections to kill grassroots democracy.