End Party-hopping with Recall Act

End party-hopping with Recall Act

Who could have foreseen that Malaysia’s anti-party hopping law enacted in 2022 would be inadequate in undoing a deep-rooted curse of political frogs?

Oh, right, just about anyone with a basic understanding of politics beyond wishful thinking.

When the idea of having an anti-hopping law provision was first floated around, it was recognised as a necessary deterrent against a pattern of politicians defecting for personal gains, such as the infamous Sheraton Move of 2020. The premise of the anti-hopping law was simple: penalise MPs who betray the mandate bestowed upon them by forcing them to vacate their seats.

But, fast forward to today, reality has proven that such legislation has not been the panacea for the political instability caused by opportunistic defections that we have hoped for.

On October 12, Kuala Kangsar MP Dato’ Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid declared support for Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim in exchange for federal funds.

On October 30, Labuan MP Suhaili Abdul Rahman switched sides and began backing Anwar Ibrahim, citing the promise of federal funds as a factor.

On November 7, Gua Musang MP Azizi Abu Naim released a statement in support for the Prime Minister after allegedly getting offered a substantial amount of money.

On November 8, Jeli MP Zahari Kechik became the fourth lawmaker from Bersatu to pledge his support for Anwar Ibrahim.

It’s noteworthy that none of them lost their seats as a result, effectively circumventing the new anti-party hopping provisions in the Federal Constitution, and exposing it as the sham that it is.

To quote my fellow member of the Bar and friend New Sin Yew, “there is no loophole in the anti-hopping provision in the Federal Constitution, it was drafted with every intention of having a glaring hole”. In other words, this was intentional: nearly every political coalition in Malaysia is complicit in this, as they all benefitted from party-hopping due to the political instability affecting Malaysia pre-GE15, and therefore knowingly voted for this charade.

A closer look at the anti-hopping law reveals two significant flaws. Firstly, the provision fails to address the switching of allegiance when a political party leaves or joins a coalition. It literally is incapable of preventing a second Sheraton Move, where the defection of a political party to join another coalition leads to the collapse of the ruling federal government – a scenario the law was specifically designed to stop in the first place.

Secondly, and more pertinent to the recent chain of events, if an MP chooses not to resign from their political party, there is no requirement for them to vacate their seat in Parliament. This is the loophole exploited by the four Bersatu MPs. Rather than resigning to join another political party, an MP could switch sides and engage in disruptive behaviours from within the party, thereby forcing disciplinary actions and the expulsion of the unruly MP, thus leaving him free to join another political party without triggering the anti-party hopping provisions.

This was a deliberate strategy intended to provide politicians with a means to switch allegiances without facing the penalties outlined in the bill, whilst placating the rakyat which was sick of the politicking at the time. And the politicians knew this.

“The one who amended the law was not me, it was the then government. But, if the law is destined to have loopholes, that will be our rezeki.” These are the precise words of one of the defecting MPs.

So what is the solution here, since it is clear that the anti-party hopping laws don’t work?

Since 2021, the MCA Bill Committee has actively advocated for the implementation of a Recall Bill, presenting a compelling case for a recall mechanism that empowers voters to decide the fate of defecting Members of Parliament (MPs) or ADUNs. In stark contrast to the Anti-Party Hopping Bill, the provisions proposed by MCA recognize the diversity of reasons behind defections, underscoring the need for a nuanced approach.

The recall mechanism suggested by MCA entrusts the decision-making power to the voters, acknowledging that not every defection elicits the same response. For instance, the case of Syed Saddiq in Muar exemplifies a situation where voters may choose to retain their MP despite the defection, as it was aligned with the broader political coalition they originally voted for. This contrasts sharply with constituencies like Kuala Kangsar, Labuan, Gua Musang, and Jeli, where the sentiments may differ significantly.

Under the proposed provisions, if the number of constituents desiring the removal of their MP surpasses the stipulated threshold for a successful petition, the seat would be automatically vacated, paving the way for a by-election. This mechanism ensures that the decision-making power remains in the hands of the electorate, providing a more democratic and responsive solution.

Regrettably, the coalitions on both sides of the political spectrum have not heeded these recommendations.. Instead, they have opted for the poorly constructed Anti-Party Hopping Bill which resolved nothing. This decision highlights a lack of political will in Malaysia willing to take decisive action and conclusively put an end to party-hopping once and for all.

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