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BN and Pakatan wrestle over local polls

 | June 12, 2012

Local government elections? The BN federal government says 'no' but the Penang state government says 'yes'.

KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya has no intention of reviving local government elections, which Pakatan Rakyat says will give citizens a chance to choose their local councillors.

Minister of Housing and Local Government Chor Chee Heung told the Dewan Rakyat that local elections were a waste of money and manpower.

“As such, the Local Government Act 1976 has been amended and local government elections stopped through Section 15 of the Act.

“This was to enable local councils to focus their efforts towards a quality delivery of service to the communities under their jurisdiction,” he said.

He was responding to a query by Kelana Jaya MP (PKR) Loh Gwo Burne who asked about the setting up of local elections.

Local polls were suspended in 1965 after the Indonesian Confrontation. Despite a promise by then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to revive them, this did not take place.

When the Local Government Act 1976 was gazetted, all provisions relating to local government elections became null and void.

In a previous Star report, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said that local elections would only cause more politicking.

Previously, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said his administration had the power to appoint all 48 councillors in his state.

However, he said that he wanted to give Penangites the chance to elect them instead. (Holding local polls has been one of Pakatan’s 2008 general elections promises.)

Recently, Lim’s state government enacted a bill – Local Government Elections (Penang Island and Province Wellesley) Enactment Bill 2012 – which it said would get local polls up and running.

DAP MPs expected the bill to be gazetted in a matter of days.

Chor: Bill is invalid

In his speech today, Chor however attacked Penang’s attempt as “invalid”.

Citing Article 75 of the Federal Constitution, he said that if a state’s law was not in line with a federal law, the state law would be void.

With this, he said that Penang’s enactment went against Section 75 of the Local Government Act 1976, which nullified local polls.

“Furthermore, Penang’s move to approve the enactment without discussing with the National Council for Local Government (NCLG) is clearly contrary to Article 95A(6) of the Federal Constitution,” he added.

That particular Article stated that both the federal and state governments had to consult the NCLG with regard to proposed local government laws.

“In other words, even though local governments come under the power of the state government, any matter involving policy and laws are subject to the NCLG,” Chor said, adding that neither a state government nor local council could act alone.

He then advised Pakatan MPs to focus on improving local council services, instead of wanting local polls.

DAP: Only courts can decide

This sentiment was rubbished by Tanjong MP (DAP) Chow Kon Yeow, adding that it was the courts, and not the federal government, which could decide on the validity of Penang’s enactment.

He said that the Penang state government had sent a letter to the NCLG on July 13, 2009 on the matter, only to be rejected in the process.

The Election Commission (EC) also rejected Penang’s local polls request in a March 23, 2010 letter.

In a statement, Chow said: “Penang, through a gazette notification exempted all the local authorities within Penang from applying Section 15 of the Local Government Act.”

“This would result in Section 15 not being applicable in Penang and is the first step towards seeking a court declaration to compel the Election Commission to conduct local government elections.”

Speaking to reporters, Chow attacked the minister, saying that it was beyond Chor’s power to declare if local polls were valid or not.


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