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LAST month, Housing and Local Government Minister Reezal Merican Naina Merican said Malaysia won’t revive local elections because of the cost and inability to give the best service to the public.

Are these reasons valid and why are local elections important in this country?

The rich history of local elections in Malaysia dates to the (India) Act XXVII of 1856, which accepted the principle of elections and recognised the necessity for an elected majority in the municipal council.

Throughout the subsequent century, Parliament passed several acts on local elections: the Municipal Ordinance of 1913, Local Authorities Elections Ordinance of 1950, and Local Government Elections Act of 1960 (Revised 1961).

Nevertheless, the Proclamation of Emergency during the Konfrontasi (Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation) in the latter part of 1964 effectively suspended local government elections in 1965 and 1966, which remains in force to this day. 

Concurrently, the national council for local government appointed a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the workings of local authorities on the peninsula under the chairmanship of Senator Athi Nahappan.

The most significant recommendations from the report include the necessity for an elected local authority to administer every state capital and elective representation at all other local authorities outside the state capitals.

The passing of the Local Government Act of 1976 (Act 171) instead abolished local government elections and allowed state governments to appoint councillors. 

Tides once again turned, after the historic 2018 general election, which led to the first change of government with Pakatan Harapan vowing to revive local elections.

Former housing and local government minister Zuraida Kamaruddin pledged to conduct a study on the reimplementation of local elections within three years.

Following the 2020 political crisis, Perikatan Nasional decided not to revive local elections in the wake of objections from several MPs. 

Despite these recent developments, reintroducing local elections can have far-reaching positive impacts.

As the lowest tier of public administration, local councils are responsible for public services, such as waste disposal, public recreation facilities and municipal roads, among others.

They also oversee local enforcement by issuing pet licences, business permits and parking violation tickets.

They formulate and implement various development plans and policies within their jurisdictions. In most instances, in which the local authorities fail to deliver services, the citizens turn to their assemblymen and MPs first.

However, legislators are not responsible for these issues as they fall under the purview of the local councils. 

These public expectations are reasonable. Citizens are inclined to approach and engage elected officials first.


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