MARCH 18 ― The party hopping culture has been in Malaysia for some time now but in 2020 it was rampant and unprecedented as we saw it cause the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan federal government as well as state governments in Melaka, Johor, Perak, Kedah. There was also an attempt to take over the Sabah government which forced the state to go into an election. The question which needs to be discussed is how can this be contained?
It is objectively clear that there is nothing good about party hopping, regardless whether an elected representative moves from the opposition to the government or even changing parties within the same coalition. The underlying facts remain clear that it was not what the people voted for. Such behaviour has eroded the trust of the public in the merit of having elections and the nation’s democratic institutions. People may lose faith in elections if they see no merit in having one as the elected politicians are free to hop as they please. This also will prevent accountability as politicians who goes on to campaign on a manifesto who then win and hop will then claim that it was the manifesto of the previous administration and that they are no longer bound by it. This will cause disillusion among the voters of whether they should continue voting or not.
The people have been pushing for anti-party hopping laws to be set in place. However, an issue with this would be that it is in conflict with the Federal Constitution which guarantees every Malaysian a right to freedom of association as laid out in Article 10(1)(C). The case of Dewan Undangan Negeri Kelantan & Anor V Nordin Bin Salleh & Anor in 1992 the Supreme Court, now known as the Federal Court, stated that it was indeed unconstitutional for the Kelantan State Constitution to contain provisions against party hopping as the State Assemblymen were free to associate or disassociate with any party they deem fit and proper.
Almost 30 years later, the same issue arose in Penang, where the State Constitution which also provides for provisions against anti-party hopping, whereby a few assemblymen had withdrawn their support for the state Pakatan Harapan government and pledged allegiance to Perikatan Nasional. Many are doubtful that the legal proceedings against the assemblymen who hopped will be successful due to the aforementioned judicial precedent. Although it should be evident that matters of such national importance have to be reformed through Parliament, where we have seen a lack of political will in doing so.
Since the Constitution provides for the freedom of association, is there no other way to prevent party hopping from continuing? Perhaps the question which should be posed to lawmakers is whether there any other ways to combat party hopping without infringing on the constitutional right to freedom of association.
Former law minister, Padang Rengas MP and Chairman of the Bipartisan Parliamentary Caucus on Electoral Reforms Daruk Seri Nazri Aziz proposed for amendments to the Election Commission Act to allow for political parties to contest for seats instead of individuals in elections. In this suggestion, Nazri called for the amendment to be that no individual will be named in the ballot papers in elections but only the party name and logo. This would mean that should there be any cases of party hopping, the elected representative would be free to hop but not take the seat with them as the seat belongs to the party. This would allow the party to fill in the vacancy with a person of their choice. This would also have positive implications on the national budget as it saves taxpayers’ money. Should the seat be left vacant due to a death or a criminal conviction, a by-election would not have to be called and the party would be free to fill in the seat with a candidate of their choice for the interim term.
Another method which could be looked at to combat party hopping is by placing a legal capping on Cabinet size and having legislations banning MPs or state assemblymen from holding GLC positions. By doing this, this will disincentivise MPs from wanting to hop as they would not be able to obtain any government portfolios or GLC positions. This will make it much tougher for the incentivising party to offer up cushy offices and an added income to elected reps to hop over to their party due to the cap in cabinet size as well as being unable to offer up GLC roles. Elected reps will no longer have anything to gain personally from hopping to another party in this case and the party encouraging the hopping will not gain an MP.
Another policy to look at is an equal parliamentary allocation regardless of whether the MP is in the government or opposition bloc. This is because MPs in the Opposition are currently receiving close to zero funding to assist their constituents, which will decrease their approval rating and chances of being re-elected. Because of this, an opposition MP may be compelled to hop over to a government party in order to receive parliamentary allocation which is distributed to his constituents.
Should there be a cap on Cabinet size, banning of an MP holding position of GLCs as well as equal Parliamentary allocation, an MP would have no reason to hop to a government party as they would not benefit personally as they would not be able to take on positions in the cabinet and GLC and already have an equal parliamentary funding.
We could see a significant decrease in reasons as to why an MP would need to hop parties without having to infringe on the constitutional rights to freedom of association if the above measures are implemented in disincentivising party hopping.
Regardless of the approach the government intends on taking, action has to be taken fast as the confidence in the democratic process is rapidly deteriorating. This will cause citizens to feel as if their vote is worthless as whoever is voted in will be free to hop according to their personal desires and agendas. Problems like this may lead to a very low turnout in coming elections or an increase in the #UndiRosak campaign which was seen in the 14th general election.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.