CAMERON POLLS | Electoral watchdog Bersih has called on all candidates in the upcoming Cameron Highlands by-election to support its push to initiate elections for village or local community chiefs, including Orang Asli tok batin (village chiefs).
This followed PKR senator Bob Manolan Mohd’s controversial remark that tok batin in Cameron Highlands could lose their posts and income if they did not support the Pakatan Harapan government.
He had said this while speaking at a dialogue in Jelai yesterday.
"The threat made by Bob Manolan underlines exactly the perils of when village and community leadership are not elected but appointed - whether by federal or state governments.
"If the allowance of RM900 to RM1,200 - according to the senator - can be used to force tok batin to support the government parties, how can the Orang Asli count on their leaders to defend their interests?" Bersih said in a statement today.
"Denial of elected village leadership is ultimately a form of electoral corruption so that appointees representing government parties get to build support by monopolising government resources and dispensing favours," it added.
Hence, it said, all state governments must hold village elections.
Bob Manolan (centre in photo) had since clarified that he meant that village chiefs should not be involved with Umno while receiving an allowance from Putrajaya, due to a conflict of interest.
However, he did not refer to his comment about depriving the tok batin of their posts or salaries, which was caught in an audio recording.
Several tok batin whom Malaysiakini spoke to were also outraged by the comments, which they said were belittling.
Cease 'unscrupulous' practices
Bersih called on M Manogaran, Harapan’s candidate for the Cameron Highlands by-election, to support their call for village chief elections "if he disagrees with the threat made by the senator".
It also called on Putrajaya to cease "the unscrupulous practice of appointing its own grassroot leaders to be the 'federally-appointed village leadership' in opposition-held states as means of patronage".
Meanwhile in a separate statement, the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) explained that tok batin is a hereditary title passed down from father to son.
However, Jakoa director-general Ajis Sitin explained that Orang Asli affairs are also overseen by a local body called the Orang Asli Village Community Management Committee (MPKKOA), whose members are elected by villagers.
According to Ajis, MPPKKOA elections are held every two years and the committee is a branch of Jakoa at the village level.