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Defecting reps ‘violating’ voters’ right

 | September 13, 2012

A local NGO, Democracy Sabah, claims the current law allowing party hopping was inadvertently 'condoning the betrayal of the voters' choice'.

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts to get Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s administration to amend the Federal Constitution to prevent elected representative from hopping from party to party have received more support from independent groups.

Desah or Democracy Sabah, a NGO established to promote and maintain democratic standards, among others, is deeply concerned about the party hopping practice – commonly known as the political “frog culture” – that is rampant in the country.

Simon Sipaun, a former Sabah state secretary who heads Desah, said his organisation supports any law that would bar the practice and hold state and parliamentary representatives accountable to their electorate in between elections.

He said that the current law that allows party hopping was inadvertently “condoning the betrayal of the voters’ choice”.

“The law now says that they [elected representatives] are free to associate with whoever they want and so they can jump from party to party.

“The politicians say it is their right… but what about the rights of the people who voted for them? Do they not also have rights?”

“Voters voted for them because they represented a party. They supported the party so when they [the representatives] jumped they are not representing these voters anymore.

“The law now guarantees their elected representatives freedom of association but does not take into account the freedom of association of the electorate.

“It [the law] should also take into account the people’s rights to associate themselves with any party and not just the rights of one individual.

“It is a violation of the freedom of the voters which is much more serious than the freedom of association of the representatives in terms of numbers,” he said.

Anti-hop law neccessary

Sipaun was referring to the widely held view that enticements were being offered for representatives to abandon their parties.

He said it was conceivable that a representative could now switch parties without compunction and such incidents were always clouded by allegations of corruption.

“Something must be happening when a politician suddenly decides to jump… there must be some incentives. Don’t tell me they are doing it for nothing,” he added.

Barisan Nasional government leaders have so far rejected the proposal to bar elected representatives for jumping from party to party as they pleased.

They claim doing so is a violation of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees freedom of association.

However, Sipaun and several other politicians including those from the BN have said that introducing such a law would promote democracy rather than stifle it.

He, like others, have suggested that to make the system fair to all, another election should be held and the elected representative should be able to re-contest the seat as a candidate for a new party and allow the people to choose.

“Past experience indicates that it [party hopping] could cause a lot of political instability. To maintain political stability, an anti-hop law is necessary,” he said.

Before the anti-hop law in Sabah that was introduced by the then ruling Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) was challenged and declared unconstitutional by the courts, many say the state experienced
unprecedented political stability.

Sipaun and others agree that to reintroduce this type of stability, a representative who leaves the party under which he or she won would be deemed to have automatically vacated the seat.

However, they said that in the interest of fairness, the person should be allowed to re-contest either as an independent candidate or as a representative of the party that he or she just joined.

Sipaun said that “the Perak incident” where the opposition was controversially removed from power after two of their elected representatives declared themselves independent and aligned themselves
with the BN, could have been prevented if there was an anti-hop law in place.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh last month renewed the debate on amending the Federal Constitution to ban party hopping by elected representatives, saying it would receive the support of the opposition and should be enacted before the next general election to ensure political stability.

His call was echoed by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, former Sabah chief ministers Yong Teck Lee and Joseph Pairin Kitingan, now a deputy chief minister in the Sabah state government.

Primary Industries and Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok, president of United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko), also voiced his support for such a law.


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