The Penang State Executive Council has made a historic decision to restore local government elections for Penang which was suspended 45 years on 1st March 1965 because of Indonesian Confrontation which ended in the latter part of 1966. This is the bold step by the state government.
When the local government election was deprived by the federal government since 1965, with a promise to restore after Indonesia confrontation. The promise was delayed after confrontation was over, another excuse that Royal Commission of Enquiry into the local council had been set up by the Federal Government under Senator Athi Nahappan. Athi Nahappan Royal Commission Report in 1968, recommended the restoration of elected local councils, but the report was disregard by the federal government and the local government election was never carried out. The failure of federal government to continue deprive local government election, and not follow the recommendation by Athi Nahappan Royal Commission Report, has been revealed by subsequent historical events. It was mainly because from 1957 to 1966, the local city council of Penang was controlled by opposition, Socialist Front. That was the main reason for the suspension of local election. The wishes of the people was disregard, and the political motive prevail. It is fair to restore the local election now under One Malaysian spirit.
It is timely the local government election is restored now.
History of Local Election in Penang
As early as 1800, an informal Committee of Assessors was formed by the rate-payers of George Town to play a role in the workings of the colonial government then, especially in issues relating to rates and expenditure.
The Municipal Council of George Town was established in 1857, the first local authority in Malaya after Singapore. Three out of five municipal commissioners were elected by a limited franchise, but due to apathy these elections were abolished in 1913. In 1857, the first experiment in elected representatives in the government was carried out in Penang. Three out of the five municipal commissioners for the George Town Municipal Commission were elected.
In 1951, as part of the move towards independence for Malaya, the British colonial authorities reintroduced local elections of nine of the fifteen municipal commissioners for George Town(partial election).
The first elections under the Municipal Constitution were held in 1st December 1951. Radical Party swept in, winning six out of the nine seats. The result was Rasical(6) lLabour(1), Umno(1), and Independence (1). Radical Party was found by the former Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Ewe, Dr N.K. Menon and others.
The 9 elected councilors included were Dr NK Menon(Jelutong) –Radical; CM Ismail(Jelutong) – UMNO, Nancy Yeap (Kelawei) – Radical, and 6 others.
Other municipal councils in Malaya followed shortly thereafter, with Kuala Lumpur holding its first local elections the year after.
1952 Kuala Lumpur Municipal Election
Although George Town played a leading role in local democracy, the elections in Kuala Lumpur had the greatest impacts on the politics of Malaysia. Of the 12 successful candidates in the 1952 municipal elections, nine were from the Umno-MCA state, two from the multiracial Independence of Malaya Party led by Datuk Onn Jaafar and one was independent. The nine Umno-MCA councillors were made up of six from the MCA and three from Umno. Most scholars believe that it was the success of the Umno-MCA collaborations in the Kuala Lumpur municipal elections that led to the formation of the Alliance, with MIC as the third partner. The Alliance, which eventually evolved into the Barisan Nasional in the 70s, won 51 out of the 52 parliamentary seats in the first national elections in 1955.
By 1956, George Town had become the first municipality in the Federation of Malaya to have a fully-elected council. The president was chosen from among the councillors and the first person to be so honoured was Goh Guan Hoe, popularly known as G. H. Goh, of the Alliance.
On 1 January 1957, George Town became a city by a royal charter granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the first town in the Federation of Malaya to become a city(Note: The only city in Malaya/Malaysia until Kuala Lumpur was granted city status in 1972). The first Mayor of George Town was Cllr D. S. Ramanathan (Labour). Jalan DS Ramanathan was named after him. By December 1957, when the head of the council was officially designated as mayor, the Alliance had lost its majority and D. S. Ramanathan of the Labour Party was elected the first Mayor of George Town.
In 1963, a councillor accused some fellow councillors of corruption. In an attempt to clear its reputation, the city councillors passed a resolution calling for a commission of enquiry. This was only established in 1966.
Cllr C. Y. Choy from Socialist Front, was the last Mayor of George Town (1964-1966). Jalan CY Choy, formerly known as Bridge Road was named after him. From 1957 to 1966, the city council was controlled by the Socialist Front, but the state government was under Alliance(UMNO, MCA, & MIC).
1965 – local council election suspended In 1965, the federal Government suspended local elections with the excuse of the Indonesian Confrontation. The City Council was at the time the richest local authority in the country, with annual revenue almost double that of the Penang state government. The first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman promised to the Parliament on March 1, 1965 that “as soon as” the Indonesian Confrontation had ended, local council elections would be held.
1966 - In response to allegations of maladministration and misconduct, a Royal Commission of Enquiry was set up. The functions of the City Council were temporarily transferred to the Chief Minister of Penang on 1-7-1966, by the City Council of George Town (Transfer of Functions) Order 1966, this is to facilitate the workings the Commission of Enquiry under Justice Dato Abdul Aziz Mohd. Zain. The Aziz Commission,as it was unofficially known, found that acts of maladministration, malpractices and breaches of the law were committed by both councillors and officials of the City Council. The restoration of local government elections was however delayed when a Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Workings of Local Authorities was established.
A Royal Commission of Enquiry into set up by the Federal Government under Senator Athi Nahappan. Athi Nahappan Royal Commission Repor in 1968, recommended the restoration of elected local councils, but this was never carried out.
The Alliance State Government fell in 1969 after losing in the general elections and Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan) under Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu become the State Government.
The remaining local authorities in Penang, including the Penang Rural District Council, were taken over by the state government in 1971
Following the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act 1973, two Local Government Management Boards (Lembaga Pengurus Kerajaan Tempatan) were established in 1974 for Penang Island and Province Wellesley.
The Local Government Act was passed in 1976 that provided for non-elected / appointed councillors and presidents, was adopted by the Penang State Government. The State Government set up Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (MPPP) and Majlis Perbandaran Seberang Perai (MPSP). All councillors, including the presidents were appointed. With the exceptions of the District Officers, all were nominees of political parties.
In the 8th March 2008 general election campaigns, both the DAP and PKR promised to bring back local government elections if they formed the State Government. During the March 8th General Elections, the Barisan Nasional lost control of Penang State Government. It was replaced by the Pakatan Rakyat State Government, made up of DAP, PKR and PAS.
Will the local election be possible in Penang?
The obstacle for the restoration of local election is the legal ground. But democratic government is for the people. Law is man made, if the government is sincere, the law can always be change to facilitate the local government election.
Article 113 (4) of the Federal Constitution which states that federal or state law may authorize the EC to conduct election other than parliamentary or state elections.
There is a clause in the Local Government Act 1976 allowing state governments to apply for exclusion of certain areas from implementing the Act, which aims at stopping local government elections in municipalities.
Therefore, holding local government elections is possible if the Emergency Regulations are revoked; Section 15(1) are repealed and Section 10 is amended. This can only be done if the Barisan Nasional government, which has a simple majority in parliament, also wants it.
The ball is now with the federal government; after all it was the federal government that took away the local government election, and promise to restore the election. It is an act to fulfill the responsibility and promises to the people, even it has been long overdue....
1.Act Of Betrayal : The Snuffing Out of Local Democracy in Malaysia ,by Prof Johan Saravanamuttu, Aliran, http://www.aliran.com/oldsite/monthly/2000/04h.html
2.Local Government Election Act 1960; http://www.agc.gov.my/agc/Akta/Vol.%2010/Act%20473.pdf
3. What the law says, http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/3/16/focus/20080316094115&sec=focus
4. Cabinet on Wednesday should give “green light” for legislative action to allow state governments like Penang to restore local government elections(2010), by Lim Kit Siang, http://blog.limkitsiang.com/2010/03/07/cabinet-on-wednesday-should-give-%E2%80%9Cgreen-light%E2%80%9D-for-legislative-action-to-allow-state-governments-like-penang-to-restore-local-government-elections/