Local elections: nuts and bolts

Voters will be less risk averse in voting their choices. Since councillors are not about to run the state or country, their concern about overall stability in the country is placated by the extent of the powers councillors hold. 

Praba Ganesan, The Malaysian Insider

They bring retail politics into our lives. They give us power.

After all the ruminations and posturing by the present government of Malaysia, their objections to local elections are self-defeating.

Let’s look at some of them.

The obvious one has been about the logistics of running local elections.

The Election Commission (EC) claims a whole slew of processes have to be added, learnt and adopted fairly so the core objective of the said election is not tainted.

For example, the non-existence of an electoral roll specifically for each of the local councils, 12 in the example of Selangor.

There are 22 parliamentary seats in the Seladang state and not all seats fall completely into a particular council.

A starting point is that all the voters of Selangor are also “declared” residents of any one of the 12 local councils. The EC just has to co-ordinate their data with all the local councils, and ensure all those in the dubious zones are tagged to the council they actually live in.

Each local council in Selangor is already divided into 24 zones with a councillor posted to it. This could be the template, voters in each zone will choose one councillor, and also vote for a mayor. So they only fill in two separate ballots. This will produce 25 councillors — including the mayor — and the Sultan’s representative can sit on the board without a vote.

The fear is about double-votes, which can be avoided with the appropriate scrutiny. The same situation is already replicated in the constant redrawing of parliamentary/state districts, where people are chucked into new districts from old ones and vice versa. The EC manages to adjust effortlessly in those instances, and this should assure us that they would be able to do the same for local elections.

The system only has to ensure transferring or transferred persons are in the roll for their new seats, and not remain in their previous districts’ roll.

The councils have detailed records of their residents’ addresses in digital form since it is crucial for quit rent collection. The EC’s vote centre allocations are built on voters’ declared home addresses.

The spectre of phantom voters does not exist any more than it would in your general election/by-election, and the EC as it stands vehemently denies widespread cheating in those elections. Therefore it is less or just as likely not to have cheating in local elections.

Which leads to the second, institutional capacity. The physical demands of local elections are no more greater than general elections. For example in Selangor you would be using the same number of polling stations, polling centres and counting centres.

And if the vote is a “first past the post” as in all our other elections, it would not require any further training for the EC volunteers except for some reorientation that does not amount to dealing with a different fish.

The seeming winning argument, which is also the blandest one, is money. In times of economic uncertainty, it is unwise to mount an exercise that costs money to the taxpayer.