Why politicians keep hopping and getting away with it
Published on: Sunday, August 30, 2020
By: Mohamed Mokhtar Ahmad Bajunid
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Credit: nst.com.my
I support the anti party-hopping or anti-defection law proposed by a Member of parliament.

One argument that has been used against anti-hopping law is one’s freedom of association, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, that a crossover law will impinge on this freedom as provided for under Article 10.

Then, there are those who feel that elected representatives have the legitimate right to switch parties as their rights and actions are justified under Article 10 (1) (c) of the Federal Constitution. 

This, they argue, is in line with the ruling of the Federal Court in the Kelantan State Legislative Assembly vs Nordin Salih case in 1992.

In this case, the Federal Court ruled against an enactment in the Kelantan state legislature that was designed to prevent defection. Under Article 48(6) of the Federal Constitution, an elected representative who is disappointed with his party could not resign or he will lose the opportunity to contest the following five years.

It is for this reason that an elected representative, who has a change of heart, is reluctant to vacate his seat. His only option is to defect to another party of his choice.

It would, however, be permissible for independent candidates to be affiliated to any party after the election as he was elected based on his individual principles on certain issues.

On the other hand, many feel that party hopping is ethically and morally wrong as this is an act of betrayal. The voters feel cheated when there is a defection. They would normally give their mandate to a candidate on the basis of the party they represent.

They would, of course, hope to see the vision, mission and the aspiration of the party realised through the representatives they have chosen. 

Defection or party switch or party hopping would be seen as a betrayal of the mandate they have given. They argue that the voters would consider the switch as unethical, immoral and dishonourable. Voters should be given the choice to review their decision on their candidate when he switches camps.

It is their belief that candidates chosen by the electorate should resist temptation and inducement for greater rewards, and remain faithful. 

For them, the political tussle for power has led many elected representatives to defect, discarding honour and ethics. The most cited case has been the Kelantan State Legislative vs Nordin Salih case, in which the Federal Court declared that the anti-hopping law was unconstitutional on two grounds. 

Firstly, it was passed by the wrong legislature. Secondly the term “morality” in Article 10 (2) (c) does not cover political morality.

It was, therefore, suggested by anti-political hopping groups that political crossovers be discouraged by introducing new law or amending Article 10. The term “morality” should be given an expanded interpretation in Article 10 to include political morality. 

Similarly, Article 48(6) of the Federal Constitution should be amended to allow elected representative who resign from their post to seek re-election. 

It has also been suggested by many that if political parties are to be registered with the Election Commission, then party-hopping should be made an offence under the Election Offences Act 1954.

Penang’s anti-hopping laws would similarly be considered as unconstitutional as it was passed by the state legislature. However, it is also argued that the abuser may not be the candidate who switched allegiance but in actual fact, the voters. The electorate appears to have tolerated party hopping.

The voters should tell the politician that it is ethically wrong and regarded as an act of betrayal to commit party hopping but, in many of these cases, this abuse is allowed to flourish.

There are also Malaysians who favour party switching. That explains why “anti-hopping law” was not on the list of 22 recommendations by the Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reforms in 2012. 

So should we consider introducing anti-hopping laws? Should we make party hopping an offence?

Mohamed Mokhtar Ahmad Bajunid


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