Bersih 2.0 repeats call for reforms to stop political defections, pave way for multi-party competition based on policies

A Malaysian flag flies outside the Prime Minister’s Office, in Putrajaya, September 24, 2020. — Reuters pic
A Malaysian flag flies outside the Prime Minister’s Office, in Putrajaya, September 24, 2020. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 1 — Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 urged the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government for reforms, warning that excessive incumbency advantages will lead to more defections of elected representatives that can undermine the country’s parliamentary democracy and economic stability. 

In a statement today, the Bersih 2.0 steering committee said Malaysians who want economic stability must demand the dismantling of such structural flaws to pave way for a healthy multiparty competition based on policies and programmes.

It pointed out that excessive incumbency advantages are the real driver of defections and suggested five distinct reform points to improve the voting process in Malaysia.

“The first is equality before the law to circumvent from politicians defecting in order to avoid prosecution as the incumbent government through the office of the Attorney-General, and direct control of key enforcement institutions, can either protect or prosecute its opponents. The role of the Public Prosecutor and that of the Attorney-General must be separated.

“The second is equal constituency development fund (CDF) allocation. A common reason offered by defectors is their need for CDF in order to serve their constituency, adding that PN MPs receive RM3.7 million allocation per annum while Opposition MPs receive RM100,000. 

“This unequal allocation is an abuse of power and misuse of taxpayer's money to give an advantage to ruling political parties.

"We call for a comprehensive law to ensure non-discriminatory and transparent CDF and public funding of parties alongside transparent, accountable and reasonable private funding,” the group said. 

For the third reform point, the Bersih 2.0 steering committee suggested the need to limit the number of ministers and deputy ministers as well as barring parliamentarians from lucrative public offices to stop “shopping for loyalty”.

The group said most defectors are rewarded with ministerial or deputy ministerial positions and are appointed to Government Linked Companies (GLCs) that come along with huge monthly salaries.

“Bersih 2.0 calls for a cap to the size of Cabinets to 50 (ministers and deputy ministers) and a total ban on elected representatives being appointed to GLCs,” read the statement.

For the fourth and fifth points, Bersih 2.0 steering committee said that parliamentary reforms are needed to empower both opposition lawmakers and government backbenchers.

“Bersih 2.0 calls for the enactment of a party-hopping mechanism called Recall Election, where the constituency's voters can initiate a process to trigger a by-election if they are dissatisfied with the defection,” it said.

The statement comes after Sunday’s defection of two PKR lawmakers Tebrau MP Steven Choong and Julau MP Larry Sng.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin confirmed that both Choong and Sng have submitted their sworn declarations of support for his ruling PN coalition.

The recent defection will provide some respite to PN that appeared to become a minority government in January when three Umno federal lawmakers withdrew their support for Muhyiddin.

Malaysia is under a state of Emergency until August 1. During this time, all state and federal elections are suspended.

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