Speaking truth to power: Malaysians have been cheated of power at the critical point of our real interests, by the lack of local elections for over fifty years.
It is not sexy, local politics, but at the lowest level is where the plainest and most connectable engagement of power occurs.
It’s not all rosy, though.
Here is an admission that goes with it: Local elections will demand more participation from residents, bring the prevailing toxic resident association politics to the fore and force a prolonged process of adjustments.
It will inevitably reduce staff numbers at all the councils, and collapse the enforcement culture adopted by them. Say goodbye to the horses owned by Kuala Lumpur City Hall!
Residents will pay more — this was already happening in the BN era and the strains to the purse strings were evident — and expect more from their contribution.
The new culture which is an interplay of taxation, representation and expenditures will undermine and disrupt federal government’s social engineering.
Questions raised, firstly, will a local council include the mayor? There might be the temptation to only vote the councilors, but not the mayor.
In Selangor, the sultan had a nobleman as his representative in the councils, would this be acceptable, to have an appointed member?
Elections without power will be an exercise in futility, so will the councils be permitted to step away from ministry and state control, and set their own agenda, including staff retention?
Will they have the right to a fixed revenue — ratios predetermined — from the federal government, or will it be at the mercy of the federal minister or its state government which also becomes a means to undermine the elected local councils.
Or will they be as it is the case with many councils abroad, have broadened powers to collect their own taxes without the jurisdiction of the mentri besar, minister or prime minister?
These obviously are questions for the ministry as they take baby steps to study how to go about this task.
To start with, they’d need the people. If the minister looks inwards exclusively to her party for the capacity to execute this endeavour, the whole matter may come unstuck in record time.
But that being said, I congratulate Zuraida Kamaruddin pledging local councils within three years even if her coalition did not include it in their manifesto.
I will add some caution here, because she has been a senior leader in Selangor PKR and therefore a strong voice in both the Khalid Ibrahim and Azmin Ali administration, but was not champion of local elections then.
She must admit if the detractors are sceptical and assume this as a part of a public relations move to up her profile in her new portfolio.
But, the minister has spoken, and let us see where this resolve brings her and the rest of us.