Anti-hopping law will take time, say lawyers

Lawyers say the mandate should be returned to voters and by-elections held in the event of party-hopping by elected representatives.

PETALING JAYA: Lawyers have agreed that it would be undemocratic for MPs and assemblymen to switch allegiances after winning seats under another party’s symbol and manifesto, but say any hope of legislating an anti-hopping law will likely only be realised after the 15th general election.

Bastian Pius Vendargon said voters and political parties had no legal remedy at the moment due to a 1992 ruling by an apex court that had legalised party-hopping.

The case in question concerned two assemblymen who had won their seats on Semangat 46 tickets during the 1990 general election.

Both Nordin Salleh (Sungai Pinang) and Wan Mohamed Najib Wan Mohamaed (Limbongan) defected to Umno the following year.

The Kelantan state assembly amended the state constitution and passed an anti-hopping law with retrospective effect from Nov 18, 1990, and the state speaker declared the two seats vacant.

Nordin and Wan Mohamed contested again in by-elections but lost this time around. They then turned to the courts, and the Supreme Court held that the amendment to the state constitution was designed to enforce party discipline, not impose restrictions on state assemblymen.

It also said the amendment had breached Article 10 of the Federal Constitution on freedom of association, and reinstated the duo as assemblymen.

However, Bastian said the right to association which, by implication, includes the right to disassociate, could not be applied to candidates standing for election under a particular banner.

He added that he did not expect the Perikatan Nasional government to pass an anti-hopping law as the coalition itself had come to power on the back of political crossovers.

“The best bet is for the people to push for contesting parties and individuals to amend the constitution, or pass a federal law to stop defections,” he said.

He was responding to political scientist Chandra Muzaffar, who recently called for a law to put an end to elected representatives switching political allegiances.

Chandra’s remarks came at a time of renewed politicking between factions in PPBM, rivalry between PPBM and Umno at the state level, and a proposed motion in the Dewan Rakyat against the prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin.

Lawyer S Preakas said defectors usually acted in their own interests rather than that of their voters.

“The mandate should be returned and by-elections held for voters to pick the candidate of their choice,” he said.

Lawyer A Surendra Ananth meanwhile said it would be better for the constitution to be amended instead of passing a law to disqualify MPs and assemblymen who defect.

He said this was because a federal law could be challenged as unconstitutional with parties citing the 1992 ruling by the apex court.

However, he maintained that the ruling in question was incorrect as the court had relied on a minority judgment by the Indian Supreme Court.

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