By Hafiz Noor Shams
What a wonderful piece of news. That aptly describes my reaction upon learning the request of the Penang state government to the Election Commission to organize two local elections in the Pearl of the Orient this year.
Selangor’s decision to follow suit makes it an all the more brilliant development.
There are obstacles to overcome and there is no guarantee that the return will happen for good.
There will be challenges no doubt. The EC is already showing sign of reluctance to do as requested.
It is quite clear that not everybody is convinced of the necessity of local elections. Some fear losing their power. Others are caught up in legalese.
Let them lose their powers. It is not theirs to keep in the first place. Be gone with the legalese. We are in a new time where old threats have long past.
The actual push for it in Malaysia is long overdue. This right of ours has been robbed from us. It is only right to have it returned.
What I am most excited about the prospect of having local elections returned is the devolution of power. It is yet another tool to empower citizens at the expense of the state. For too long has power been concentrated in the hand of the state.
The return of the third vote will chip away that focused power by distributing it more evenly across the landscape, as it should have been.
Do you remember how such power distribution felt?
The last time such significant redistribution happened was in March 2008.
Yes, it has been two years since that day. Since then, there have been many disappointments: the lies and hypocrisy regarding freedom of association, more slogans, disloyalty and generally broken promises.
Yes, many of these disappointments have began to question the wisdom of many whom gave members or former members of what is now Pakatan Rakyat a chance.
That in no way changes the fact that the 2008 Malaysian general election demonstrated that individual citizens do have the power to change the course of the country.
It is a reminder that the kind of confidence in individuals that seemed to exist only in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged does exist in the real world. It blew away the feeling of helplessness that nothing can be done.
It proves that in the face of a titan, individuals can be as fearsome as the titan can.
My feeling as a first time voter in the early morning of March 9 was one of pure exhilaration.
After all the disillusionment, the feeling that this country belonged only to the selected few forming a cabal, the election showed that I still do have stake in the country. More importantly, I can act on that ownership.
The devolution will further prove that I, along with many other Malaysians, do have ownership over not just the country, but also the street where I — we — live in. We are the ones that should take care of our own streets.
We pay for it after all.
With the third vote, we can stop pretending that those representatives we send to national and state assemblies are taking care of our local interests.
We do not need an MP or state assemblypersons to take care of our streets and everything else in our immediate neighborhood.
We can do it ourselves.
Such absurd pretentions have caused Members of Parliament and state assemblies having to deal with local problems while they are supposed to debate on nation and statewide issues respectively.
It is not the jobs of these representatives to worry about sewage and trash. Those are the responsibilities of local councilors.
Local elections will enhance the division of tasks and with the division of tasks comes the division of power.
Less power in the hand of the few means less opportunity for abuse.
If this is what those who oppose the reintroduction fear, then let them fear it.
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Hafiz Noor Shams is a Fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).
This article first appeared in The Malaysian Insider on 9 March 2010.
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