Malaysia won’t have local government elections

Despite election manifesto promise, central appointment of local councilors will be continued

Malaysia will not revive local government elections, as it would cost at least RM302 million nationwide and such elections for local councilors may not necessarily guarantee the provision of good service to the public, a minister has said.

In a written parliamentary reply yesterday, Housing and Local Government (KPKT) Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican said his ministry supports the government’s wishes to build a modern country that upholds democracy and empowers its citizens. He said this had been done through his ministry encouraging all local authorities (PBT) to carry out their meetings through live streaming to enable public involvement in PBT administration and to increase their confidence in PBT officers and local councilors’ integrity and professionalism, with 16 PBT already carrying out such live streaming activities.

“However, the government of the day does not plan to implement local government elections. This is because the existing system of appointing PBT local councillors had worked well. Expenses to carry out local government elections will involve a big allocation as implementation costs are very high. The cost of holding local government elections is estimated to be RM2 million for each PBT and RM302 million for all 151 PBT in the whole country,” he said.

He added that this was only an estimate of the minimum cost, as it does not include “hidden costs” that would have to be borne by other related agencies, such as the police for the purpose of controlling electoral safety and the People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) for the control of the situation at the voting area.

Will good services be ensured? He went on to list other reasons why local government elections would not be carried out.

“Besides that, if local government elections are held every two years, this will cause the focus in providing services to the public to be affected, since too much time and energy is focused on the process of election campaigns.

“All these while, PBT could still give the best service to the public without local government elections and the implementation of local government elections is not a guarantee to ensure that,” he said.

Non-renewal of poorly performing local councilors’ appointments. Under the current system where PBT local councilors are appointed instead of elected by the public, the minister noted that local councilors who do not perform well would be dropped or not re-appointed after their term ends.

“Usually, local councillors’ appointment is for two years and those who show low performance would be dropped to ensure the service to the public is not affected,” he said.

He added that KPKT, through the cooperation of the KPKT training institute and the local government department, also provides training annually for local councillors, with the intention of providing exposure and the government’s direction to shape these councillors to be those capable of competently and effectively carrying out their duties to the public.

The ministry said it was also developing a guideline for the appointment of local councilors, which would include the need to fulfill the criteria of appointment tenure, academic qualifications or professional experience, and demographical composition such as ethnicity, gender and minority groups.

He went on to say that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition had promised in its election manifesto to revive local government elections to enable local councilors to be elected by the public. “However, the Cabinet on July 17, 2020 had agreed for this proposal to not be continued,” he said.

PH had won the May 2018 general elections and became the federal government until February 2020, which was when federal power changed hands to the Perikatan Nasional government under then prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who led the country until August 2021. The country is now led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The written parliamentary reply was provided in response to Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah, who had asked whether KPKT intends and plans to hold local government elections in Malaysia and when it would be carried out if it intends to do so.

This article originally appeared in the Malay Mail on December 9, 2021.