Hold local council elections

Speech by MP for Bandar Melaka, Lim Kit Siang in the Dewan Rakyat on 20th July 1973 on the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Bill, 1973.

Call on Alliance Government to honour its solemn pledge to Parliament in 1965 to hold local council elections

The current meeting of Parliament started with the tampering of the Constitution to abolish nine Selangor State Assembly seats and the disenfranchise signing the death certificate for elected local government, by the passage of the local Government (Temporary Provisions) Bill 1973.

With the passage of this Bill, all councillors in all local authorities holding office shall forthwith cease to hold office, it will then be up to the respective State Governments to appoint the members of the Board of Management of the local authorities.

The Alliance record on the question of elected local government is a record of broken promises and breathes of faith to the people and country.

When the Alliance Government suspended local council elections on 1st March 1965, the then Prime Minister gave as justification the threat of Indonesian Confrontation. But he gave a solemn pledge, which I quote:

“As soon as this peace and quietness has returned we would make haste with all proper preparations for the local council elections, because we realize that these elections may generate heat and passion, and advantage will be taken by evil forces to make the fullest use of the situation.”

At the end of his statement, the Tunku made this categorical undertaking:

“The very moment peace is declared I can assure this House that the elections will be held.”

But today, we have before us a Bill to give the final burial ceremony to elected local authorities, despite the fact that the Royal Commission into the Local Government recommended the continuation of elected local government system in Malaysia.

From this, it would appear that the Government’s word and solemn pledge, made to the people and country in this august Chamber, is not worth a tuppence.

I call on Alliance Government to withdraw this Bill, and honour its solemn pledge made in this Parliament in 1965 to hold local government elections, or stand condemned as having deliberately deceived Parliament and people in 1965, and a government whose words and solemn promises are not to be taken seriously.

There is no doubt that the determination of the Alliance to do away with elected local government is not prompted by any idealistic or noble objectives, but solely motivated by lowly political considerations.

If the ruling party is confident of capturing the majority of the local authorities, then elected local government would be given a new lease of life. But the Alliance and even the National Front parties are painfully aware that if there is an electoral contest, their candidates are earmarked for thumping defeats.

It is the anticipation of this Bill today that seduced wholesale betrayal by the People’s Progressive Party. To cling onto their seats in the Ipoh Municipal Council, they are prepared to sell their political soul and the principles which they have proclaimed for the last ten years under the leadership of the late Mr.D.R.Seenivasagam, even if it is just to look after the cows of Ipoh.

As for the MCA, knowing that their candidates stand no chance of becoming local councillors in an open electoral contest, they gleefully take part in the murder of local elections, so that their kind can get onto the local authorities from the backdoor through appointments.

Thus, Clause 4 (3) of the Bill provides for the appointment of Members of the Boards of Management of local Authorities by the State Government. The Clause reads:

“Members of the Board shall be appointed from amongst persons the majority of whom shall be persons ordinarily resident in the local authority area who in the opinion of the State Authority have wide experience in local government affairs or who have achieved distinction in any profession, commerce or industry, or are otherwise capable of representing the interests of their communitiesin the local authority area.”

This clause will enable the MCA, the PPP and the Gerakan to give jobs to the boys, to the political rejects and failures.

The rider in the clause that such persons should have wide experience in local government affairs or who have achieved distinction in any profession, commerce or industry, or are otherwise capable of representing the interests of their communities in the local authority area will have no meaningful application.

From past practice, we will find that the sole criterion of such appointments will be the person’s unthinking loyalty and faithfulness to the ruling party, and who are the least qualified to represent anybody but themselves.

Thus, if the government conducts an opinion survey in local authorities where the government has appointed local councillors, they will invariably find that these are men who rank very low in public esteem.

If we need another example, it is the Senate, where we find Senators being appointed solely because of their political affiliations and the need to give jobs to the boys, and not on their ability to contribute to the advancement of the aspirations of the people.

An appointed local government will be an inefficient, unresponsive and even irresponsible local government, for the simple reason that the appointed councillors will not be answerable to the people and can afford to ignore their need and wishes. They will invariably be the yes men, the local landlords and bulls who know how to falter the powers that he acquired and oppress the people that he should be serving.

I will just give an illustration read in the press of the spread of the dengue fever, claiming another life of a 10-year old boy in Pontian. If the local authorities are elected and answerable to the people, then there would be more energetic counter-actions taken by the local authorities, as it is, the Health Ministry and the local authorities seem helpless and inefficient and incompetent in checking the growing dengue fever epidemic throughout the country.

My party urges the Government to withdraw this Bill and in the national interest, raise above party politics and restore local government elections in Malaysia, and revive democracy in Malaysia.