Introducing an anti-hopping law against freedom of association is a false dichotomy — Helen Ting | What you think

APRIL 5 – The legislative initiative to enact an anti-hopping law, according to newspaper reports, is slowly getting closer to a reality, which will be tabled in parliament next Monday. The damage caused by the political defection of elected officials since the last general election is sufficiently endemic and deleterious that otherwise polarized political leaders on both sides of the aisle support the bill. Would it be enough to have a two-thirds majority in parliament? We will know soon enough.

While sporadic discussions and disagreements in the public sphere over the bill are still airing, it is perhaps worth briefly recalling how the current anti-party-hopping sentiment has intensified so that we do not miss the forest for the trees. The biggest move of all the party jumps was obviously the political instability that ensued after the ‘Sheraton Move’, at a time when all government efforts should rightly be focused on tackling the challenges multidimensional posed by covid-19 infections. Instead, the fragile government of Perikatan Nasional led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin had to hold its government together, through “innovative” strategies such as appointing an unusually large cabinet, prompting more party defections to provide a buffer at his majority and declaring a state of emergency to avert the threat of a vote of no confidence, rather than focusing on meeting the nation’s pressing needs amidst the citizens’ desperation and anger. The price – political, economic, social, human and educational – to be paid was enormous, aggravated in part by the political immobility and the contradictions incurred by the reality of a coalition of convenience with a tenuous majority. Even supporters of the PN government readily agreed that the government had screwed it all up.

While most would agree on the need to curb “unwanted” or “unscrupulous” jumping, crafting an anti-hopping law that satisfies everyone is complicated, in part because the wrongfulness of the act Political defection is often viewed through a partisan lens, as politicians on both sides have been caught up in this messy process in one way or another. But the bottom line is that the widespread, liberal permissiveness of political defection mocks voters’ tenure and ruins people’s faith in the democratic system. Something has to be done.

The author felt that although most would agree on the need to curb parties
The author felt that while most would agree on the need to curb “unwanted” or “unprincipled” parties, drafting an anti-hopping law that satisfies everyone is complicated. — photo by Bernama

The argument that the recall election is more democratic than the anti-hopping law that imposes an automatic vacancy of the seat when a representative changes party affiliation is wrong. Ultimately, the political legitimacy of an elected official resides in the popular support of voters. Forcing a by-election simply requires the representative to go back to their constituents to seek re-election for their new political status, and it is more democratic to do so. My research revealed that voters do not vote simply based on party affiliation or candidate attributes, but on a combination of the two and/or the overall political situation. Thus, the mandate given to legislators is not perceived solely as an individual or party mandate by voters.

Therefore, while acknowledging that there may be legitimate grounds for conscientious and principled legislators to clash with their party (in fact, most defectors justified their action on their own grounds), the argument in favor of the absolute right to political defection mid-term their tenure must be weighed against the wider consequences of such an act on the national landscape of political development. Given the considerable damage that political defection can inflict on the nation and the state of democracy, it is only fair that the freedom of association of a defaulting legislator be tempered by requiring him to renew his mandate by a by-election. After all, his sound political judgment would be vindicated if he were to win re-election.

the Nordin bin Salleh vs. Dewan Undangan Negeri Kelantan The verdict, which went against the popular will of Kelantan voters, apparently pits the democratic mandate against freedom of individual association. I think framing the debate this way poses a false dichotomy. Members of the National Assembly could have their freedom of association, but if what they were doing was against the will of the people, they should have enough principles to choose freedom of association while letting voters decide. express democratically. After all, what other legitimacy can they rely on as representatives of the people?

* Helen Ting is Associate Professor at IKMAS, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. She is the author of “Changing the Electoral System for a More Democratic Malaysia? Challenges and Options’, Available here.

* This is the personal opinion of the author or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of malaysian mail.

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