TODAY, I might probably be accused of writing the obvious and something that all Malaysians are aware of.
Yes, I guess everyone knows what a basic democracy is but do we understand it enough to be outraged when it is seriously challenged?
I am not sure, especially with many Malaysians appearing to condone party-hopping after an election. So I believe repeating a very important point again and again should be allowed as Malaysians appear to have a short memory. So please bear with me.
We all know democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Which actually means it is a form of authority in which power is not concentrated in the hands of one person. People elect their representatives with that one powerful vote and in turn, expect them to serve them honestly.
Though democracy is secure in Malaysia, the recent wave of political instability mainly caused by party-hopping has created many misconceptions in the minds of people regarding the meaning and the purpose of that one vote in a democracy.
What does party-hopping actually tantamount to?
Let’s be clear here. Whatever that happened in the last few months and the dissolution of the Sabah state assembly last week were all within the ambit of the existing provisions in our laws.
However, being legally right does not mean their actions can be morally correct. With the absence of specific laws, they become very subjective.
I would like to put such actions crudely here. It is tantamount to your elected representative walking away showing you the middle finger.
The MP or state assemblyman has devalued that all-important one vote to something worthless as soon as the day after an election.
As time approaches for the next election, your vote starts packing some strength again, with candidates virtually begging for it.
Significantly, almost every single case of collapse of the federal and four state governments during this period has been the direct result of the change of allegiance by legislators. Defections on such a vast scale and of such great consequence to the country’s political system were unprecedented.
The winners were overjoyed, hugging with some and even shedding tears amidst claims that they were doing it for the nation, for the unity of race and religion.
But half the nation was hopping mad, calling for the “political frogs” to be punished. Unfortunately, there are currently no legal provisions to act against them.
We’d be lying through our teeth if we deny that the politics of defection has put a heavy strain on the functioning of true democracy and parliament in our nation.
Apart from this, relationships and friendships have come under much stress too. Most importantly, the image of our politicians has taken a severe beating.
And the trust deficit between the rakyat and politicians has widened.
Malaysians in general, and surprisingly MPs and state assemblymen who had changed their political allegiance and who are now on the government bench, had openly said that the cure for defection was a law under which the defector would cease to be the member of the legislature.
However, lawyers have argued that this will contradict Article 10 (1) whereby every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peacefully and without arms and to form associations.
This may be true on the surface of it but as prominent author and constitutional lawyer GK Ganesan has pointed out in his blog, Article 10(2) can override this clause on certain instances including imposing laws to protect “public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or of any Legislative Assembly.”
He makes a lot of sense on this point. Allow me to quote excerpts of a brilliant judgment at the Indian Supreme Court written by the then Acting Chief Justice Mufti-Baha-Ud-Din on a party-hopping case which the three-men bench ruled as illegal.
Among others, he said: “It is true that political defections can impair the stability of a government and a stable government alone can ensure to the citizens of India which is a sovereign democratic republic, justice, liberty and equality enshrined in our Constitution. Political defection is no doubt a menace for it can lead to political instability and political instability can lead to chaos which may eventually rock the very foundations of democracy, the bedrock of our political system...”
So the learned judge used a similar clause in the Indian Constitution namely Article 19 (2) which allows their Parliament to make laws despite the enshrined freedom of association law.
He added: “It is highly immoral and indecent for a member who has been elected on a platform of a certain party to change sides in the manner it is being done these days. The member who defects commits political immorality and the whole action is indecent and in most cases than not it tends to create public disorder.”
The definition of morality here is not that hard to interpret, it’s simple and straightforward in my opinion.
The poor masses give our elected representatives the trust with that one vote to guard and protect us for the next five years.
In return they enjoy special privileges too, and referred to as Yang Berhormat (YB), a term that is used on honourable people.
We all know that generally, all Malaysians give that trust with their votes to the party the candidates represent, with very little or no consideration to the character or quality of those standing in elections.
Malaysia must stop this practise once and for all. There is an urgent need to have such a law in place, whichever way it is worded. But the bottom line is simple – do not give any elected representative an opportunity to switch parties after an election.
In fact, one suggestion that the party that wins the seat will retain the seat in the event it becomes vacant will surely help bring about political stability to a great extent.
Why, we would also save on the huge costs involved in holding elections. For example, if such a law had existed now, we will not have experienced the political turmoil in Sabah where millions of ringgit will be spent on the snap election.
Malaysia sorely needs this and the government which is honest enough to push for this enactment will, without doubt, win the hearts of most Malaysians. And if such a law is in place, you effectively stop the corrupt practices involved in enticing elected representatives to switch parties for rewards.
I am confident this would be the beginning of bringing about some political honesty and a stronger democracy. For the good of the nation and the rakyat, I am sure both sides of the divide will support such a legislation.
I am one of those who strongly believe that good sense will prevail among the people and politicians to realise that party-hopping not only destabilises any government in power, but also sends a wrong message to the people that it’s fine to be dishonest.