“IF you can’t do anything about frogs, we should shoot them in the kneecap as politicians have feet of clay,” said P.K. Katharason, who was then The Star editor.
The year was 1994. We were waiting for newly-appointed Sabah Chief Minister Tun Sakaran Dandai’s press conference in Kota Kinabalu.
The mood in my home state was raw.
Less than a month after Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), which ruled the state for nine years, formed the state government, it was hit by defections.
Several PBS assemblymen jumped ship to join Umno.
PBS president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, in an action which many described as honourable, quit as chief minister. And Sakaran of Umno was sworn in to the top post in the state.
Many Sabahans felt cheated.
PBS had won the 1994 Sabah polls by 25 seats while the Umno-led Sabah Barisan won 23 seats out of 48 seats.
The Pairin-led government won the seats despite a rigged election where there was gerrymandering and allegations of phantom voters.
The PBS frogs had betrayed the rakyat’s mandate.
Fast Forward to 2018.
History repeats itself with a slight variation.
In GE14, Barisan Nasional and Warisan/Pakatan Harapan won 29 seats each and Sabah Star two out of the 60 state seats.
Sabah Barisan is led by Tan Sri Musa Aman, who has been chief minister for 15 years, Warisan/Pakatan by Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and Sabah Star by Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.
With Barisan and Warisan/Pakatan Harapan tied, Dr Jeffrey was the kingmaker.
In a move that anti-Musa Sabahans despised, he picked Barisan.
Musa, with 31 assemblymen, managed to get himself sworn in before the Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin at Istana Negeri.
Around that time, Musa’s support from 31 assemblymen was whittled down by six Barisan assemblymen – four from Umno and two from Upko.
The six jumped to be with the Warisan/Pakatan Harapan government.
Less than 48 hours after Musa became chief minister, Shafie was sworn in for the post.
Sabah, technically, has two chief ministers.
Just like his uncle Sakaran, Shafie became chief minister after some assemblymen defected from the ruling government.
However, unlike the raw mood in 1994 when the Pairin government fell, it was a jubilant atmosphere in the state as many were happy to see the fall of the Musa government.
Many Sabahans, who are anti-Musa and pro-Warisan/Pakatan Harapan, argued that the assemblymen who defected did the right thing. Some saw it as a necessary evil as the assemblymen jumped to the rightful side.
While those who opposed argued in the age of Malaysia 2.0 where overwhelmingly Malaysians voted for change, what Shafie did was what Umno had done in 1994.
The Warisan, Pakatan Harapan and Upko government existed because six assemblymen had ditched Barisan.
Some Sabahans feel that these assemblymen are treating the seat they won as if it belonged to them and not to the rakyat who voted for them (specifically, the party logo they stood under as candidates).
Party hopping brought down democratically-elected governments in Sabah in 1994 and 2018 and Perak (ruled by Pakatan Rakyat) in 2009.
There’s a discussion on whether the anti-hopping laws should be reintroduced.
In 1986, PBS amended the state constitution to introduce the anti-hop laws.
It had to do so as after it defeated the mighty Berjaya government in the 1985 Sabah polls – PBS won 25, Usno 16, Berjaya six and Pasok one out of 48 seats.
PBS formed the state government. But its rule was wracked with tense political drama such as:
• A “dawn coup” by Berjaya and Usno leaders to get themselves in power even though they didn’t have the majority where Tun Datu Mustapha Datu Harun got himself “sworn in” as chief minister (leading to the famous Lat cartoon where there are two luxury cars with the chief minister’s insignia passing each other);
• Orchestrated riots in the state to pressure the Pairin government to quit; and
• Attempts to buy PBS assemblymen to cross over.
After 10 months in power, Pairin decided to dissolve the state assembly. In the 1986 snap Sabah polls, PBS won 34 out of the 48 seats.
To prevent the practice of unprincipled politicians switching parties who sought financial reward for their political allegiance, PBS amended the state constitution so that “an elected or nominated assemblyman who resigns or is expelled from or for any other reason whatsoever ceases to be a member of the political party of which he is a member would have to vacate their seat in the assembly”.
However, in 1992, the Supreme Court found the amendment breached Article 10 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees freedom of association.
With the anti-hop laws ultra vires the Federal Constitution, party hopping was no longer illegal.
But morally, the representatives who want to hop should be required to re-contest in the same constituency so that he/she may put his decision to change party to the rakyat.
Now, I’m hop-ing the political frog culture stops in my state.
If not, we, the Rakyat Sabah, should break the kneecaps of party-hoppers.