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Sabah passes anti-party hopping law
Published on: Monday, May 29, 2023
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Sabah passes anti-party hopping law
Hajiji chatting with Mohd Shafie soon after the motion of thanks to State Government policy speech delivered by the Head of State was passed on May 24.
THE Sabah Legislative Assembly (DUN) on May 25 passed a Bill to amend the State Constitution that will not only prevent elected assemblymen from switching party but also allow any of them to be appointed Chief Minister if the person commands the majority support.

The amendments not only involved a new Article 17A, the anti-party hopping provisions which is to be inserted into the State Constitution but also a few other existing clauses in the Constitution.  

Speaker Datuk Seri Kadzim M Yahya passed the Bill – Constitution of the State of Sabah (Amendment) Enactment 2023 – tabled by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor after division votes clause-by-clause were called. 

This followed the request of the opposition Parti Warisan assemblymen who negated the amendment to delete Clause (7) Article 6 of the Constitution.  

All 75 assemblymen present agreed with the amendment to insert the new clause, Article 17(A) that states that any assemblyman who resigns from his party will have to vacate his seat.

The same shall apply to an Independent assemblyman who is looking to join a political party but does not apply to the six nominated assemblymen because they do not have a constituency. 

More than two-thirds or 61 of the total 79 assemblymen voted in favour of the amendment to delete Clause 7(6), while 14 others, including Opposition leader Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal (Senallang), negated.

Four assemblymen were absent, including Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin (Lamag) who is also Sabah Barisan Nasional (BN) Chairman. 

Deleting Clause 7(6) allows any member of the State Legislative Assembly to be appointed Chief Minister if the person commands the confidence of the majority of the House.

The person does not have to be the leader of the political party with the most elected representatives.

Previously, the Clause states that the leader of a political party that has won a majority of the seats of the Assembly was deemed as the member of the Assembly who is likely to command the confidence.

A total of 13 assemblymen debated the Bill, but most of them were focused on Clause 7(6) because they wanted it to be maintained and not deleted. 

Hajiji explained that Clause 7(6) was proposed to be deleted because it is no longer in line with Clause 3 due to the current political scenario.

He said Clause 7(6) was inserted into the State Constitution in 1990 following the incident that occurred on April 22, 1985, to prevent similar incidents to recur.

“However, the current political situation today, whether at the federal or state levels, is that a government can only be formed when the political parties reached an agreement to form a coalition.

“Therefore, Clause 7(6) is no longer relevant, even causing confusion and debate among the assemblymen.

“The requirement of Clause 3 which stipulates that the Head of State shall appoint a Chief Minister from among the members of the State Legislative Assembly who in his opinion may command the trust of the majority of the members of the State Legislative Assembly is sufficient for the appointment of a Chief Minister,” he said.

Hajiji cited Article 6(7) only applies in the following circumstances where, for example, when party A wins 40 seats out of a total of 73 State Legislative Assembly seats in the election. 

“The leader of the party A fulfilled Article 6(7) to be appointed as Chief Minister. This is a situation that can happen.

“But Article 6(7) does not apply or is not appropriate in a situation where, for example, party A won 26 seats, party B won 29 seats, party C won 15 seats and party D won three seats out of a total of 73 seats. In this situation, there is no party that wins the majority of seats to form the government, resulting in a hung government like what happened in Sabah in 2018.

“As everyone is aware, the state governments formed since 2018 are a coalition government. If refer to Article 6(7), there is no party leader who meets the requirements of Article 6(7).

Therefore, this Article 6(7) should be deleted to ensure that the appointment of the Chief Minister does not violate the provisions of Article 6(7) of the State Constitution.

“This is to enable or make it easy for the Head of State in making a decision,” said Hajiji, adding if they follow Article 6(7) it would mean that the leader of the party who gets the majority, even if it is not up to 50 per cent of the number required, can become Chief Minister which just creates confusion.

“So we make it easy for the Head of State to make a decision according to his discretion as to who gets the majority of support from the State Legislative Assembly Members,” he said.

Mohd Shafie, in objecting to this, said Article 6(7) should be maintained because it is to complete Clause 3, where a political party has won the majority, to serve as a guide for the Head of State not to abuse power like what happened during the PBS era.

Earlier, when tabling the Bill, Hajiji said the proposed amendments, among others, were aimed at ensuring political stability and putting an end to the endless political crises which Sabah had been facing.

“These amendments will also send a clear message to every state assemblyman to hold true to the principle of their party to protect the mandate and trust of voters who elected them in elections.

“I am confident that this enactment can also put a stop to the action of assemblymen, whether elected or appointed, to switch parties without solid or reasonable grounds and ensure long-term political stability in the State,” he said.

He said the anti-party hopping law would not have retrospective effect and the implementation of the enactment would begin from the date it comes into force.

Under the enactment, an assemblyman who jumps to another party, regardless of whether that party is in the same coalition or not, will lose his seat.

“Any Assemblyman who changes parties or leaves his party to become an Independent member of the Legislative Assembly will have to vacate his seat,” he added.

Hajiji said the membership of a Legislative Assembly member refers to his membership in a political party, irrespective of whether that party is part of a coalition of parties or not.

“Apart from that, membership of a Legislative Assembly member also refers to an Assemblyman who is not a member of any political party in a coalition but is a direct member of the coalition party,” he said.

He said the membership of an Assemblyman in a coalition would not be considered in the application of the anti-party hopping law because the main determining principle is membership in a particular political party.

He also said the party symbols under which assemblymen contested in elections would not be considered in the anti-party hopping law.

On exemptions in the anti-party hopping law, Hajiji said assemblymen would not lose their seats if their political parties were dissolved or de-registered, or they were expelled by their parties.

“The exemption also applies to an Assemblyman who resigns from his political party upon his election as Speaker. This matter will not cause the Speaker to lose his seat in the Legislative Assembly,” he added.

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