Penang pins hopes on Zuraida to fight for local council elections

Penang had been fighting for years to restore local government elections in the state.

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government says it will leave the fight to restore local government elections, paused 53 years ago, to minister Zuraida Kamaruddin as the state has exhausted all options to reinstate the practice over the past few years.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said Penang was pinning its hopes on Zuraida to “fight” on since she had wide powers over local governments as the housing and local government minister.

At a press conference in Komtar today, Chow said Penang had gone all out to bring back the third vote, including enacting a state law to that effect, but a “no” by the Federal Court in 2014 had left Penang with nowhere to go.

“We have seen the statement by the prime minister. And we have seen Zuraida vouching for the return of the third vote or local council elections.

“So we are going to leave this fight to the minister to carry on as it is out of our jurisdiction and we have exhausted all means,” the Tanjong MP said.

He was responding to a question on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s announcement that local council elections would not be held as they might produce “the wrong result” and there might be conflicts because of the possible emphasis on racial differences.

Noting that the restoration of local council polls was not in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, Chow said nevertheless, DAP had “worked tirelessly” on returning the third vote over the past seven years.

Unfortunately, he said, the effort had led nowhere.

On March 11, 2013, the state government and former Aliran president P Ramakrishnan even filed a petition seeking a declaration that the state legislature had the right to allow voters in Penang to elect their local councillors in accordance with the Local Government Elections (Penang Island and Province Wellesley) Enactment 2012.

The petitioners also sought to declare Section 15 of the Local Government Act invalid, claiming that Parliament acted beyond its powers under the Federal Constitution in enacting that provision.

But the Federal Court ruled that the Penang legislature had no jurisdiction to hold local government elections. It also said the state government had exceeded its jurisdiction by unilaterally exempting the application of Section 15 of the Local Government Act 1976 to the whole of Penang.

Yesterday, DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang disagreed with Mahathir’s stand, saying the prime minister might have had his hands on the wrong information.

The Iskandar Puteri MP said racial polarisation in local councils was corrected in 2010 and most councils were dominated by Malays. He said of 148 local council areas, 122 were Malay-majority while 13 others were mixed, and not controlled by any one race.