Sunday, December 17, 2023

Restore Right to Democratically Elect Peoples’ Representatives through Free and Fair Elections for True and Effective People’s Participation in all levels of Government including the Local Community Level, Local Government (Council) and the Senate (16 Groups)


Joint Media Statement – 18/12/2023

Restore Right to Democratically Elect Peoples’ Representatives through Free and Fair Elections for True and Effective People’s Participation in all levels of Government including the Local Community Level, Local Government (Council) and the Senate.

We, the 16 undersigned groups and organizations call for democratically elected people’s chosen representatives at the local communities, in Local Government (Local Council) and the Senate in Malaysia. Currently, in Malaysia, we only dem ocratically elect Members of Parliament (MPs) and State Legislative Assemblypersons (ADUNs) once every 5 years. Malaysians do  not democratically elect the representatives of the other structures of governance being the Local Government or the Senate. They also do not democratically elect their local community leaders.

The State/Federal government choose and appoint the Local Government, the Senate and even the local community leadership.

These State/Federal appointed representatives are not freely chosen peoples’ representatives, and as such is an abuse of power and a violation of human rights, that effect or deny peoples’ ability to effectively participate in the governance of their individual local communities, their local government, the Senate and also Malaysia.

Article 21(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) states that ‘Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Freely chosen representatives are chosen by the people themselves, and NOT State selected and/or appointed.

Article 21(3) states that ‘The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.’ – indicates that it is by elections that people choose their ‘freely chosen representatives’.

State/Federal government generally tend to appoint party members or supporters as peoples’ representatives in these other structures of governance – but if there was an election, these appointed persons may never even be chosen by the people.

State appointments undermines peoples’ right of participation in government, when views/positions of the people can easily be ignored by these State appointed representatives who listen more to the appointing authority, and not the people they are supposed to represent.

Laws and policies that require the people to be consulted are undermined when support or views are given by these State appointed reps, allegedly on behalf of the people, when the people to be consulted may many a times be kept in the dark about what they were supposed to be consulted on, and worse is what was even communicated by these so-called leaders/representatives allegedly on their behalf to the relevant authorities directly or indirectly as the views, positions and/or decisions of the community. Hence, the views of the people may be a misrepresented.

For example, the people in fact may be opposed to logging or a particular development, only to be later informed that their ‘appointed’ village/community ‘head/representatives’ had already issued letters of support. Yes, such State appointed community leaders may have given consent for logging and maybe even environment or health threatening economic endeavors without even the peoples’ knowledge or informed consent.

State appointed ‘leaders/representatives’ compared to democratically elected representatives through periodic elections may simply have no loyalty or even fear of the people they are supposed to represent, as their position ultimately is not in the hands of the people, but the State authority with the power to appoint them or renew their term of office. They are thus merely State representatives – not true peoples’ representatives.

Would the people, if truly consulted even have consented to the building of factories like Lynas, for the logging of nearby forests or even health and environment threatening incinerators or other development projects?

Government must have faith in its people, and restore peoples’ rights to democratically elect their own leaders/representatives at all levels of government right from the micro communities they live in, the Local Government (Council) of their area, and even Senators. The current state of affairs is simply undemocratic.

Local Community/Kampung/Taman/etc. Elections

In Malaysia, even in the smallest communities like villages/kampungs, kampung Barus and Tamans, the leadership continues to be State appointed rather than being democratically elected. For some apartments/condominiums, after the handover, there are democratically elected management committees of all the residents, but for other small communities, leadership/representatives are generally not elected by all residents/people in the respective communities, and is rather appointed by the government.

In some communities, there are registered societies that allege to be resident associations but the reality is that they are limited to ‘selected’ individuals – not all the residents, and it may even be impossible for other residents to join, as membership is governed by the Society/Association that have a right to reject any new members.

As such, it is best that all local communities like kampungs and Tamans to have democratically elected ‘mini’ governments, whereby the elections can be conducted by the Election Commission or a relevant government authority, where the term of office may be fixed.

Having such a democratically elected structure helps in the communication between people and relevant authorities in matters concerning development and related matters. In Thailand like in many other democratic nations, for example, every community have elections carried out at the level of these micro communities by the State once every 2-3 years. Having such a democratic structure ensures a more effective participation of every person in government, where the elected leadership loyalty shall be first to the people residing in that particular community not some other appointing authority.

In Malaysia, during the reign of Pakatan Rakyat in Perak, the then Chief Minister (Menteri Besar) Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin did conduct democratic elections in kampungs and some kampung barus where the people could finally democratically elect their own local community leaders.

Sadly, there was opposition by some who preferred to still appoint ‘their’ people rather than allow the people to democratically choose their own leaders/representatives. After all, people elected leaders may not be simply ‘YES man’ and will sometime oppose plans of governments for their area.

Local Government/Council Elections

The Local Government effectively governs the area that fall within its jurisdiction, including the deciding or participating on the decision making process on development projects in their area, plans and business permitted within the area of local council, determining rates payable for different types of buildings, the building and maintenance of roads (other than State and Federal roads), signboards, parks and even drainage/irrigation within the area, parking rates, public transport and even flood mitigation. A Local Government can even prevent the building of dangerous or unhealthy factories/business, incinerators, etc. The Local Government primary concern is the best interest of the people within the jurisdiction of the particular Local Government.

Local Government has the power to make laws, and even enforce its own laws.

Local Government elections, which started in 1952 with the Kuala Lumpur Municipal elections, continued after Independence in 1957 until it was ‘stopped temporarily’ by the UMNO-MCA-MIC(Alliance) government in 1965, and the reasons given then was 'the Indonesian confrontation’ against the formation of Malaysia in 1963’, and this was done by means of emergency law namely the Emergency (Suspension of Local Government Elections) Regulations 1965.

The Royal Commission of Enquiry(RCI) into the Workings of Local Authorities in West Malaysia led by Senator Datuk Athi Nahappan dated December 1968,  stated that if a local government is not elected, it is non-representative. If we hold fast to the time-honored concept of "no taxation without representation", nominated local government undermines the legitimacy of local authorities to collect assessment rates which are the most important source of income of the local authorities. That is why the Royal Commission Report concluded that the merits of elected local government with all its inherent weaknesses outweigh those of the nominated ones.

But after this ‘emergency’ had passed and despite the recommendation of the RCI, the then Barisan Nasional government chose to do away with local government elections in 1976 when Parliament passed the Local Government Act.

To restore local government elections, this Federal Act/s need to be repealed or amended, for until this happens local councilors will continue to be appointed by State or Federal governments, and not democratically elected by the people.

Some believed that the real reason for withholding elections was because the Alliance (later known as Barisan Nasional) government feared of losing more local authorities to opposition parties and independent persons.

People generally are smart and do want to simply give power at all levels to any particular party or coalition. This was one of the reason the BN government preferred having both State and Federal Parliamentary elections at the same time. All this has now changed as many States now have their elections at a different time from the Federal elections. So, some people may vote for one party at one level, and another at the other level to serve as a check and balance against authoritarianism.

The State of Selangor and Penang, under the rule of Pakatan Rakyat (PKR-DAP-PAS), fought for the restoration of Local Government Elections – but they could not do so then because a Federal Law prevented local council elections. This and other Federal Acts need to be repealed or amended first to restore Local Council elections, which now can be easily done as Pakatan Harapan’s Anwar Ibrahim is finally Prime Minister, as he also claims that he has the support of an overwhelming maybe even more than  two thirds majority support of all MPs. Amendment of laws require a simple majority, whilst the amendment of the Federal Constitution needs a two third majority.

After GE14(General Elections 14) in 2018, when Pakatan Harapan (PH) managed to form the Federal government, assurance was given to amend several laws in Parliament as early as the end of 2020 to reinstate local government elections, and it pledged ‘to restore the voting system for local councils in three years.’ Then, the government was ousted after about 22 months in power.

Now, that Anwar Ibrahim, who had always been seen as the leader of Pakatan Harapan, is Prime Minister, he has the capacity of restoring Local Council elections. The worry is whether the Opposition too would also use similar reasons, as the then Barisan Nasional government did when they decided to continue appointment rather than democratic elections for fear that the Opposition and others may win local council elections.

Some politicians have even advanced the fear that Chinese Malaysians may ‘dominate’ as they are in  greater numbers in urban areas – a foolish argument as the jurisdiction of Local Government goes way beyond towns and include rural areas, and naturally Local Government can be broken up into constituencies and the outcome will be reflective of the national demography. Such race-based views may come from race-specific political parties of old, but Anwar’s own party, PKR, and the other principle Pakatan Harapan parties are all multi-ethnic parties that allow for membership of all Malaysians irrespective of race or religion.

At the very least, the Federal laws could be amended giving the freedom to individual States to decide whether they will have local council elections or not  – rather that keeping the Federal laws as it is that prevents local council elections in the whole of the country.

Senate, the Upper House of Malaysian Parliament

The Federal Constitution acknowledges the possibility that members of Senate could be elected by the people, and no more be subject to ‘political appointment’ by the Federal and/or State governments.

Article 45(4) of the Federal Constitution says that ‘Parliament may by law—…(b) provide that the members to be elected for each State shall be so elected by the direct vote of the electors of that State;..’. Yes, what it means is that the people can directly and democratically vote in our Senators. Currently, the peoples’ right to choose Senators has been ‘stolen’ by State Legislative Assembly.

Art. 45(4)(c) even says that Parliament by law can even ‘decrease the number of appointed members or abolish appointed members.’ This means also the practice of Federal Government appointed Senators can be ended – possibly in favour of direct elections by the people.

Today in Malaysia, 40 Senators are appointed by the Federal Government, 2 Senators are appointed from each of the 13 States, and 4 other Senators are appointed by Federal Government for the 3 Federal Territories. In other words, the one who governs the Federal Government can ‘control’ the majority in Senate, being able to appoint 43 Senators, whilst all States can appoint only a total of  26 Senators. As such, is there really any need for the Senate (the Upper House of Parliament), when it is filled with pro-government Senators who are unlikely to disapprove laws proposed by government and supported by the lower house, Dewan Rakyat.

The power of appointment of Senators have been used or ‘abused’ to reward even those rejected by the people in the Parliamentary Elections. Those who lose in the Parliamentary elections after being rejected by the people may end up being appointed as Senators, an example of this being the current Home Affairs Minister.

The Federal Government uses Senate appointments to also be able to appoint them as Cabinet members.

Can the primary role of the Senate (the Upper House of Parliament) to independently review the decisions of the Lower House and scrutinize the government be achieved if Senators continue to be appointed, and not democratically elected by the people?

Therefore, we

Call for the democratic rights of the Malaysian people to be fully restored so that they can effectively exercise their right to take part in the government of this country at all levels, directly or through freely chosen representatives by way of democratic elections at all levels including from their basic local communities (villages, Kampung Barus and housing estates),  the Local Government (Local Councils) and also the Senate;

Call for an end of political appointment of peoples’ representatives in favor of democratically elected peoples’ representatives;

Call for an end of Federal and/or State government theft of peoples’ democratic rights to freely chose their own peoples’ representatives;

Call for the speedy repeal or amendment of the Local Government Act 1976 and other laws that prevent local government democratic elections in Malaysia;

Call for the abolition of the Malaysian Senate, if the right is not restored to the people to directly elect their Senators;

Call for the Malaysian government to trust the people, and restore full democratic rights.

Charles Hector

Rohana Ariffin


For and on behalf of the below listed 16 groups

ALIRAN (Aliran Kesedaran Negara)

MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

Black Women for Wages for Housework

Centre for Orang  Asli Concerns (COAC), Malaysia

Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM).

Gagasan Insan Progresif (GIP)

Global Women’s Strike

Haiti Action Committee

Legal Action for Women, United Kingdom

North South Initiative (NSI)

Payday Men’s Network (UK/US)

Sarawak Dayak Iban Associstion(SADIA)

Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)

Teoh Beng Hock Association for Democratic Advancement, Malaysia

WH4C (Workers Hub For Change)

Women of Color Global Women’s Strike



No comments: