Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pakatan tones down electoral reforms

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has backtracked on its commitment to electoral reforms as the coalition of three parties tried to seal an agreement on a common policy framework.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the policy framework scheduled to be launched at the PR national convention this weekend will make no commitment to restore local elections, but will merely declare its intention to “strengthen local democracy.”

Such a choice of words was made to appease party leaders who are critical of local government elections and to allow the coalition more options to handle the matter.

According to PR insiders familiar with the policy framework, opposition to local elections by party leaders is not new.

“Some party leaders believe that having local elections will make councillors dependent on the party machinery,” said a PR official who spoke on condition on anonymity.

The opponents of local elections in the federal opposition are also concerned with the “racial composition in major towns”, the administration centre of most local councils.

However, another PR leader denied that the coalition has dropped its commitment to restore the third vote arguing that the framework is merely a blueprint on how PR should move forward and details of policy implementations are not necessary at this point.

“Basically it is a commitment on issues by the three parties, once it has been endorsed, we will come out with the mechanism, on how to handle them,” a PR leader told The Malaysian Insider.

“There is no question of our commitment to local elections... it is a matter of semantics, it is about how we are saying it,” he added.

Since the suspension of local elections in the 1960s, councillors are appointed directly by the state government and this has since turned into a political reward for ruling party officials.

The restoration of local elections is one of the demands made by electoral reforms coalition, Bersih, which PR parties are part of.

In November 2007, the group organised the largest street demonstration in the city in a decade, mobilising some 60,000 protesters to demand for free and fair elections.

The coalition’s effort in mobilising support contributed to Barisan Nasional’s (BN) worst electoral performance in Election 2008, which was held just four months later.


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