NB: This press statement was released on 4 June 2013.

I read with great disbelief the statement attributed to Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman in a news article yesterday.

When asked by reporters what he thought of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s stance in questioning the Federal government for not implementing local government elections, Abdul Rahman suggested that the Chief Minister made no sense as there is already a “choice” when it comes to choosing leaders for local government.

Explaining further, Abdul Rahman says that “if we hold local elections and the person was elected due to his popularity but he cannot work, we will be stuck with him for a term of about three years. If we appoint him and he doesn’t perform, we can easily replace him.”

What remarkable logic by the newly minted federal minister! In one fell swoop, Abdul Rahman has displayed either a deep-seated disdain and disregard for democracy, or quite simply his utter ignorance on the matter.

As an elected representative of the government of Malaysia, he must have found the recent 13th General Election to be an unnecessary waste of time. Instead of going through all the trouble of seeking a mandate from the people, I am sure he feels that he should have simply been appointed to the Cabinet.

As unfortunate as it is for Abdul Rahman to have to go through an “unnecessary” election, it is even more unfortunate for Malaysians because we are now, as he has put it, stuck with him as a minister for the next five years or so.

Abdul Rahman’s contempt for democracy is exemplified further when he clearly explains that “another problem that might crop up for having local government elections is that there will be far too much politicking going around. Work to continue developing the nation might not get done. If we have elections all the time, when are we going to work?”

I believe that the minister has completely missed the point. The electoral process is a pillar of democracy that is designed to ensure that decision-making authority is tempered by direct accountability. Having local government elections means that this accountability will be devolved to the third tier of government, i.e. the local councils, hence better reflecting the needs and desires of the people at grassroots-level.

In fact, local government elections used to be the norm in Malaysia before it was outlawed by the Federal government in 1965. Elected municipal councils used to enjoy far-reaching powers, encompassing everything from public transport to, as in the case of the Penang municipal council, power generation. Today, everything has been centralised in the hands of the Federal government, such that ordinary citizens now have very little influence over so many areas that directly affect their lives.

Instead of responding to the public’s desire for greater empowerment with incredulous and inane statements, Abdul Rahman should take a leaf out of his UMNO colleague Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah’s book as the latter has repeatedly supported the reinstatement of the third vote, in order to restore true “choice” to the people.

Zairil Khir Johari, Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera / DAP National Assistant Publicity Secretary