Augmenting democracy

We still have a long way to go. I hope that the passing of the anti-hopping law will encourage us to reach for greater heights in working together on further reforms and in cultivating a political culture of integrity and democracy.

– Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said

It is good to see something positive coming out of the current parliamentary session.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, on July 27, tabled the Constitution (Amendment) Bill (No. 3) 2022 that amendments Article 10 and the Provision for the Prohibition of Members of Parliament (MPs).

Congratulations to the 209 MPs who cared. They were present and voted unanimously to pass this amendment and new provisions on July 28. It is also heartening to see all MPs coming together for the benefit of the nation and its people.

Our Prime Minister can now claim some achievements and go down in Malaysian history as a reformer to some extent.

On August 9, this bill will be tabled in our Senate. Once passed by our Senate, this bill will be presented to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for assent. After that, it will be gazetted.

This constitutional amendment will also enable all state legislatures to pass anti-hopping laws. This will deter elected representatives from switching political parties at their whims and fancies or due to inducements but still retain their seats.

Party-hopping is often associated with the expectation of financial rewards of one kind or another. Such actions of these elected representatives, commonly termed as ‘frogs’, mock the voter’s desires.

Under this anti-party hopping law, the parliamentary seat of any MP who leaves a political party will automatically have the seat declared vacant, followed by a fresh by-election.

This proposed anti-hopping law will be a disincentive for MPs to hop to another party for their own selfish reasons since they will be at high risk of not being re-elected.

Much of the electoral and parliamentary reforms in the pipeline took on additional urgency due to the Sheraton Move two years ago. This resulted in political instability leading to many distractions from the essential tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.

These reforms will help to restore people’s confidence to some extent in our parliamentary and electoral processes.

Although there are deterrence and consequences spelt out under the anti-hopping laws, exceptions will also be included.

One such exception will allow MPs to vote according to their conscience and what is best for the people rather than along party line. Under such circumstances, if they are disciplined by their party with dismissal, they would not lose their seats.

Some have opined that there is no need for Sarawak to enact its own anti-hopping bill as the federal one will be applicable to Sarawak.

Others have opined that our Sarawak Constitution already has a dormant provision on anti-party hopping – under Article 17 (7) (Disqualification of Membership) of the Sarawak Constitution, that will become applicable soon.

“Article 17(7)(a) reads: “Any person who has voluntarily given an undertaking to the Speaker in writing that he will not resign his membership from the political party for which he stood or to which he belonged when he is elected to the Dewan Undangan Negeri, shall, if he resigns from the political party after being elected, be disqualified in the interest of public integrity and morality from continuing to be a member of the Dewan Undangan Negeri with effect from the date he resigned from the political party.”

I am no expert in these matters. However, reading from a layman’s perspective, this provision indicates that anti-hopping is an option and not compulsory and certainly does not look comprehensive to me.

Meanwhile, some other states are already planning to introduce anti-party hopping laws in their respective state legislatures.

Under the circumstances, it would be best to incorporate the anti-hopping law into the Sarawak Constitution for purposes of certainty. Sarawak has the largest number of elected representatives in its legislature, 82 in all. It would be best to be on the safe side.

Passing a specific anti-party hopping law here would also enhance our claims of having autonomy rather than relying on federal laws.

I am sure all Malaysians will acknowledge the tremendous efforts of Minister in the Prime Minister Department (Law and Parliament) Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar and his team. Well done Datuk Seri for your commitment to parliamentary reforms and augmenting democracy in our country.

Preparing and guiding this constitutional amendment through the many challenging stages and finally through parliament must have required much focus and determination.

I would also commend all the people in Malaysia, the many civil society groups, NGOs and not least the journalists who played an important role in keeping the need to have anti-party hopping laws on the front page of many newspapers and on the social media.

While we have stability in Sarawak, let us not leave it to chance and luck.

It would be good to introduce the necessary amendments to our constitution to ensure a sustainable and working democracy that will withstand the test of time and keep Sarawak ahead in its drive towards greater heights.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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