PETALING JAYA: Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (Bersatu) attempt to unseat four Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) MPs is on slippery ground, say lawyers.
A lawyer familiar with the matter told The Star that the six Sabah Bersatu candidates had actually joined GRS as direct members in October and then contested the 15th General Election (GE15) on a GRS ticket, of which four of them later won.
The lawyer added that an indication was when GRS chairman Datuk Hajiji Noor himself admitted that they had a deal to support Barisan for the prime minister's post after GE15.
“Unfortunately, Barisan did not win,” said the lawyer who declined to be named.
The lawyer said it will be difficult for Bersatu to use the Article 49A of the Federal Constitution - better known as the anti-party hopping law - against the four MPs.
“No doubt, it has always been assumed that the four were initially supporting Bersatu. However, the four had taken into consideration its deal with Barisan before deciding to contest as direct GRS members," said the lawyer.
“The four were working towards total independence from the national leadership to allow themselves to decide on who they should support after the elections,” the observer added
Meanwhile, Sabah Law Society President Roger Chin said the question that begs to be asked is whether the four MPs officially joined GRS in October.
“One must note that leading all the way up to nominations and elections there was no mention of them being GRS members in October," he said.
Chin added that statements issued by the four MPs appeared as if they indicated that they were Bersatu members.
“When did they become GRS members and is that factual? All of these issues need to be considered. At the end of the day, who they were a member of when they were nominated could be the main determinant, rather than which symbol they stood under.” said Chin.
Chin also said there appears to be ambiguity in Article 49A on the definition of “member of a political party”, as it did not mention whether it meant an individual party like Umno, or a coalition like Barisan or GRS.
“What is a political party (under Article 49A)," Chin said.
Meanwhile, Lawyer Tengku Datuk Fuad Ahmad argued otherwise, saying that the definition of political party under Article 49A meant that the party of which he is a member, under whose symbol he contested and to which the candidate is elected.
"All six candidates were direct members of GRS prior to GE15 and it was by virtue of said direct membership that four were later elected,” said Tengku Fuad.
"The four elected GRS MPs contested under the GRS logo as direct members and not because they were members of Bersatu,” he added.
Fuad then said that for the the anti-party hopping provisions in Article 49A to apply, the four MPs will have to cease to be GRS members.
"This is the same political party under which they contested in GE15 and to which they were elected,” added Fuad.
In GE15 in November, six candidates from Bersatu contested in Sabah under the GRS logo; Kudat, Papar, Sipitang, Ranau, Batu Sapi, and Semporna.
The four who won were Papar MP Datuk Armizan Mohd Ali, Batu Sapi MP Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan (Tourism, Arts and Culture deputy minister), Sipitang MP Datuk Matbali Musah, and Ranau MP Datuk Jonathan Yassin.
Fuad also argued that Article 49A(2)(C) renders the anti-party hopping law impotent, as both Bersatu and Umno’s party constitution provide for immediate expulsion from the party if a member joins another party.
He added that under Article 49A(2)(C) of the Federal Constitution, an MP will not lose his seat if the only reason he ceases to be a party member was due to their expulsion from their political party.
"Therefore, if an Umno MP hops into Bersatu, then under the Umno Constitution, he is immediately expelled.
"The only reason why that MP would cease being an Umno member is because his membership was expelled. If this is so, then under Article 49A(2)(C), the MP will not lose his seat,” said Fuad.
"Therefore, the immediate expulsion clauses in Umno and Bersatu constitution would protect an MP if he were to ‘hop’ out of either Umno or Bersatu,” added Fuad.
On Thursday (Dec 29), Bersatu vice president Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee said the party had sent a notice to the Dewan Rakyat about the vacancies of the four parliamentary seats occupied by its former leaders.
Kiandee also said that Hajiji had on Nov 2 made a public announcement that six (of 13) GRS candidates were from Bersatu.
According to Kiandee, a letter from Sabah Bersatu to Muhyiddin dated Nov 3 also showed that the four were contesting as members of Bersatu.
However, Kiandee said that on Dec 10, Hajiji announced that Sabah Bersatu party leaders, including its MPs, had left the party, citing consideration of the current political landscape.
Kiandee said the act of the four MPs sitting on the government bloc under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is an act of “crossing the floor”.
“As a result of that, their membership in Bersatu has lapsed in accordance with the party constitution.
“They must cease to be members of the Dewan Rakyat and their seats should be vacated,” added Kiandee.
Article 49A of the Federal Constitution states that whenever a Speaker receives a written notice from the MPs on the occurrence of a vacancy among members of the Dewan Rakyat, the Speaker should establish if there is such vacancy and notify the Election Commission within 21 days the written notice is received.