OF HOPPING AND ANTI-PARTY HOPPING
Party-hopping culture while not new, has been on the rise in the Malaysian political scene in the past year. The most infamous of party-hopping incidents was arguably the defections of elected lawmakers to form the new PN coalition in early 2020, subsequently leading to the fall of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) federal government and several PH state administrations in Melaka, Johor, Perak, and Kedah. There was also an attempt to take over the Sabah government, forcing the state to go into a snap election. Recently, within the last month, Julau MP YB Larry Sng and Tebrau MP YB Steven Choong left Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) to be Independent MPs under Perikatan Nasional (PN). Furthermore, Kuala Langat MP YB Dato' Dr Xavier Jayakumar departed from PKR as well, claiming the action was to avoid snap polls during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This begs the question of what exactly are the detrimental effects of constant party-hopping? The excuse of it being detrimental to our democracy — while true — can be an umbrella term too vague to properly visualise the outcomes of this seemingly dangerous political habit. Policy analyst Zayd Shaukat outlines that the underlying issue is, essentially, that it is not what the rakyat voted for. It erodes the public's trust in the nation's democratic institutions and hinders accountability when politicians are no longer bound by the manifestos that were voted in by the rakyat. Newly-elected Malaysian Bar President AG Kalidas has explained that these unexplained defections and switching of political allegiances greatly undermines the rakyat's confidence in the political process and may lead to voter apathy when elections roll around again.
We then find ourselves considering why there are no laws that prevent party-hopping in the first place? Despite the need and demand for anti-party-hopping laws to be implemented, Article 10(1)(c) of the Federal Constitution stipulates that all citizens have the right to form associations. While party-hopping is, in essence, undemocratic, it is contended that limiting lawmakers’ political associations would be unconstitutional. This notion supported by the Supreme Court in the case of Dewan Undangan Negeri Kelantan v Nordin Bin Salleh that held it unconstitutional for the Kelantan State Constitution to contain provisions that prevented party-hopping on the basis that State Assemblymen were free to associate or dissociate from any party. The court found similarly in Datu Haji Mustapha bin Datu Harun v. State Legislative Assembly of Sabah & Anor as well.
Nonetheless, legal bodies and authorities have been advocating for anti-party-hopping laws to be implemented in our country. Sarawak PKR has called for urgent Parliamentary reforms to prohibit party-hopping and pressed for legislators who switch allegiances mid-term to be disqualified from continuing their term and be banned from contesting for the next decade.
AG Kalidas has emphasised the Malaysian Bar's concerns and insistence on having anti-party-hopping legislations be implemented. He stated that Article 10(2)(c) of the Federal Constitution allows Parliament to impose restrictions on the previously mentioned Article 10(1)(c) as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation. He also suggested the possibility of removing or amending Article 48(6) and subsection 6(5) of the Eighth Schedule of the Federal Constitution which stipulates that an MP or State Assemblyman who resigns shall be disqualified from contesting as a member of the House of Representatives for five years. This allows MPs the choice of resigning their seat and re-contesting as a different political party that the rakyat could vote in, rather than suddenly changing parties without the democratic process.
YB Dato' Sri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Padang Rengas MP and Chairman of the Bipartisan Parliamentary Caucus on Electoral Reforms, proposed that the Election Commission Act should allow for political parties to contest for seats instead of individual elections; meaning that the rakyat would vote on a party instead of an individual politician. As such, an elected representative that decides to switch parties would not take a seat with them, as the seat would still belong to the initial party.
To conclude, party-hopping is a major issue that many bodies are pushing to eradicate. However, the lack of results is a concerning picture in our political landscape. Malaysia has a long way to go before attaining a truly democratic and fair system. It begins with not ignoring the rakyat's voices and fulfilling the basic premise of having GE votes actually count towards who will run the country, as promised to the people of Malaysia.