Taking a stance against party-hopping

Vote it out: Party-hopping is undermining the country’s democratic process and leaving voters frustrated and disillusioned. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

FOLLOWING a particularly turbulent few years for Malaysian politics, voters have become more vocal in calling for accountability and to rein in the habit of party-hopping, which has come into vogue among our elected representatives.

There are many ways party-hopping can happen. Some elected representatives switch sides after disagreements with party leaders, some are sacked, some have a change of heart and realign their political direction, and others, quite crudely, are simply bought over.

Whatever the reason for the recent political movements, they have left many voters frustrated and disillusioned.

Party-hopping not only creates political instability but also undermines the democratic process and mandate entrusted to them by constituents.

Recognising this, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and politicians from both sides of the divide started taking firmer action in advocating for anti-hopping laws in Malaysia. Political analysts have also noted how a Recall Bill can return power to voters, and urged for it to be implemented soon before the next election.

“At least it gives hope for the future as an effort to re-empower constituents, particularly in Malaysia’s current political situation. This is the best option now,” says Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi.

“One of the main reasons behind our political instability is MPs changing parties at their whims and fancy, and for their personal agendas. If a Recall Bill goes through it will create stability and will ensure what people vote for during elections is what they get,” adds Universiti Teknologi Malaysia political analyst Dr Azmi Hassan.


Taking action

On Sept 10, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the Cabinet has agreed to introduce a Bill against party-hopping, in addition to several other parliamentary reforms, with the proposed laws to be tabled at the first meeting of Parliament next year. On Thursday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (Parliament and Law) Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told Parliament that the Attorney General has been asked to draft the anti-hopping law. However, Wan Junaidi said that the process has just started and will take time.

Former Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, meanwhile, took her own initiative and submitted a notice on Sept 3 to table a Private Member’s Bill titled the “Sacking of Members of Parliament Bill 2021”, and in mid-September, urged the government to fast track and include her Recall Bill as part of its proposed anti-hopping law.

Azalina hopes the Bill will be the starting point to introduce a recall election mechanism where elected representatives can be sacked as a way to deter party-hopping. In the Pengerang MP’s proposal, a petition will be held among the rakyat to decide if an elected representative should be replaced or not.

MPs who switch parties, who are sacked from their political party, independent MPs who join a new political party, those convicted for certain offences, and those who are absent for more than 50% of Parliament sittings for a period of six consecutive months can face action under Azalina’s Bill. If a petition to remove the MP is supported by more than 40% of the area’s voters, or alternatively half the number of voters in the last election, a recall election will be triggered.

Similarly, MCA is in the midst of drafting a Bill to make MPs more accountable by targeting those who have committed misdemeanours or who have defected from their parties.

In MCA’s proposed House Of Representatives Recall (HORR) Bill, voters can initiate a recall vote if the elected representative commits an offence or is convicted of a minor offence not amounting to disqualification of office. Voters can also apply to start a “recall petition” with the Election Commission on the grounds of party-hopping, provided that the petition is supported by 10% of the electorate.

The recall petition succeeds when at least 25% of eligible voters turn up with half of them supporting a by-election. When the recall vote succeeds, an MP’s seat is automatically vacated and a recall by-election is triggered.

The Dewan Rakyat Speaker can also trigger a recall petition when an MP’s attendance in Parliament is below 80%. MCA’s Bill is currently in progress and the Bill committee is conducting further research and engaging relevant groups for feedback.

So far, Azalina’s Bill has been backed by graft monitoring group Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M), election watchdog Bersih, and Umno Youth. MPs from PAS, PKR, DAP, and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), and the Bar Council have voiced their support for an anti-hopping law, while former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has expressed his support for an anti-hopping law, but said that clearer definitions need to be outlined before it is implemented.

Returning power to the people

The guiding principle behind MCA’s recall process is to return power to the people, says party spokesperson Chan Quin Er.

“When the day comes that a Recall Bill reaches the floor, whichever it is, so long as it’s potent enough to prevent the political crisis of 2018-2020 from happening again, support will come from all sides,” says Chan, who is also a member of the Bill Committee.

“The plagues of political frogs of 2018 and 2020 have brought about much instability that weakened foreign investors’ confidence in Malaysia. This must be rectified immediately, or the economic recovery we so desperately need after the Covid-19 pandemic will be slow and painful.”

Chan: 'Both sides of the political divide in Malaysia have suffered enough from the chaos of party-hopping.' Chan: 'Both sides of the political divide in Malaysia have suffered enough from the chaos of party-hopping.'

MCA started looking into recall laws last year and came up with their proposal after carrying out comparative studies of jurisdictions applying recall laws and conducting rounds of discussions.

“Both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan were greatly affected by the two great ‘party-hopping’ events that occurred in 2018 and 2020. It stands to reason that we finally make a concerted effort to put an end to the loophole created by the 1992 Nordin Salleh decision, now considered by many to be controversial,” says Chan.

In the case involving a Kelantan Assemblyman Nordin Salleh who jumped from PAS to Umno, the Federal Court ruled that PAS’ anti-hopping rule violated freedom of association under Article 10 of the Constitution. Instead of waiting until the next General Election, a Recall Bill will allow voters to immediately put their MP’s mandate to the test and see if they still command the support of their constituency after hopping.

If they are a good MP and their constituents support their reason to party-hop, they will survive the recall vote. If the reasons for jumping are purely fueled by self-profit, voters will have the MP recalled, Chan explains.

“It will be a new chapter in Malaysian politics. Not only will MPs become more hesitant to party-hop, even political parties will think twice before trying to get MPs from the other side to jump over. They know that if their ‘frogs’ lose the recall vote, it would be a complete waste of money (i.e. the cost of campaigning in a by-election), and any effort spent on enticing the MP to hop over will also be wasted,” she adds.

If the Bill is unsuccessful, Chan says that MCA will keep trying other ways; such as challenging the legal position that prevents the creation of anti party-hopping legislation in Malaysia.

“Both sides of the political divide in Malaysia have suffered enough from the chaos of party-hopping. While the Constitution prevents us from outright banning party-hopping, it is hoped that the Recall Bill will act as an effective deterrent to end Malaysia's problematic culture of party-hopping for good.”

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