Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is greatly disappointed with the judgment of the Federal Court in rejecting the application filed by Penang state government and former president of Aliran Kesedaran Negara, P. Ramakrishnan to hold local council election in Penang.
The judgment ruled that the Penang government cannot unilaterally suspend the provisions under the Local Government Act 1976, which abolishes local council election, on the ground that this goes against the Federal Constitution. It also ruled that the Local Government Elections (Penang Island and Province Wellesley) Enactment 2012 was null and void as it went against the Federal Constitution and laws passed by Parliament, namely the Local Government Act 1976.
The right to take part in the government, whether directly or through freely chosen representatives, is one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The third vote, to elect local councillor by the people, is a direct manifestation of this right and one of the fundamental levels of any functioning democracy.
It is concerning that the judgment of the Federal Court ruled that the Local Government Elections (Penang Island and Province Wellesley) Enactment 2012 as unconstitutional instead of the Local Government Act 1976 that takes away the right of the people to elect their own local government as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It must be reminded that the local council election was temporary suspended due to the emergency situation during the Confrontation period with Indonesia following the introduction of the Emergency (Suspension of Local Government Elections) Regulations 1965. Although the justification offered by the government at that time was flimsy, but even this emergency situation was long over. There is really no justification to continue to suspend the local government election. It is disappointed that the Federal Court judges did not seem to take this as an important factor in their deliberation.
The Penang state government has taken efforts to restore local council election and this must be commended. The state government must now explore other ways to reinstate local government elections that will comply with the existing legal framework while continue to seek amendments to the laws.
Nevertheless, the ball on legal amendments is in the court of the Federal Government and the Barisan Nasional.
We urge Barisan Nasional to review the Local Government Act 1976 in order to pave way for local government elections to be restored. In particularly, Section 15 of the Local Government Act 1976 must be repealed. Any failure of the Barisan Nasional to review the legislation would clearly signal to the public that Barisan Nasional is simply not interested to return the basic rights of the people and to respect the fundamental principles of democracy.
Yap Swee Seng