Mahathir may not have the right information when he said local council elections could lead to racial conflict
The Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad may not have the right information when he said yesterday that local council elections could lead to racial conflict and widen the urban-rural divide.
The view that restoration of local council elections would benefit the Chinese at the expense of the Malays ignores the local government restructuring and the process of Malay urbanization in the past five decades.
Based on the 2010 Census, out of the 148 local authorities in Malaysia (comprising three City Halls, nine City Councils, 37 Municipal Councils and 99 District Councils), only two per cent or three of the local authorities have Chinese majorities, namely Sibu (Chinese 63.4% Malay/bumiputra 35.7% Indians 0.4% Others 0.5%); Kuching Selatan (Chinese 62.5% Malay/bumiputra 36.4% Indians 0.6% Others 0.5%) and Pulau Pinang (Chinese 56.4% Malays 33.7%; Indians 9.5% Others 0.4%).
Local authorities with Malay majorities of over 50% of the population number 132 or 89.2% of the 148 local authorities, with the balance of 13 having a plurality of races with seven Chinese dominant and six Malay dominant.
In the 2020 Census to be held in more than a year’s time, there would be further changes in the racial composition of the demography of the local authorities in favour of the Malays, because of the higher birth rates among the Malays compared to the non-Malays.
The restoration of the 53-year suspension of local government elections is an important building block not only for democracy but also for plural nation-building in Malaysia.
It has nothing to do whatsoever with the 3Rs of race, religion or rulers, but is concerned with the 3Rs of “Rates, Roads and Rubbish” although the scope of local government responsibility has expanded by leaps and bounds worldwide, such as including community services like libraries and parks, tourism, urban renewal, community health services, accessible transport and pollution control.
Elected local government is to empower citizens with the democratic right to participate in the third tier of democratic governance to take ownership of the decision-making process about their immediate environs – serving as a training ground for citizens in the direct experience of democratic governance at the grassroots level.
The restoration of elected local government had been the objective of DAP ever since our formation in 1966.
It was an important issue in the Segamat Utara parliamentary by-election in Johor in October 1968 where Tun Musa Hitam was first elected as Member of Parliament – later to rise up the political ladder to become Deputy Prime Minister.
I made at least two major speeches in Parliament on the restoration of local government during the three-year resumption of Parliament from 1971-1974 – my first term as an elected MP.