PETALING JAYA: For decades, calls for an anti-hopping law to prevent elected representatives from jumping ship have been largely ignored.
The term “frog”, referring to MPs and assemblymen who jump ship, first emerged after several assemblymen from Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) defected to Barisan Nasional (BN) during the 1994 Sabah state election. This led to the collapse of the Sabah government.
Over the years, more instances of party hopping emerged though the practice reached new heights after the 14th General Election with as many as 40 MPs switching sides, culminating in the infamous Sheraton Move in 2020 which led to the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government after only 22 months in power.
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Political instability ensued resulting in the Yang di-Pertuan Agong being forced to appoint two prime ministers in two years as the federal government was changed twice.
Finally, last September Pakatan Harapan (PH) and the government signed a memorandum of understanding to restore political stability following a change of government. One of the conditions for the agreement was that the government would introduce an anti-hopping law.
FMT takes a closer look at what an anti-hopping law entails and the issues surrounding its enactment.
What is an anti-hopping law?
An anti-hopping law is designed to prevent persons who are elected under the ticket of a political party from crossing over to another political party after winning a seat.
Lawyer Bastian Pius Vendargon said people suspected that party hopping was usually done for personal gain and at the expense of the voters, many of whom vote along party lines.
However, the reason party-hopping has not been outlawed is because the Federal Court declared in 1992 that doing so would infringe upon one’s freedom of association.
So, to introduce an anti-hopping law, the first order of business is for Parliament to approve a constitutional amendment to bypass the 1992 court ruling.
Rationale for the law
Electoral reform group Bersih said the passage of an anti-hopping law in Parliament would restore public confidence in the electoral system and give voters a reason to come out in full force for the 15th General Election (GE15).
Although its preference was an anti-hopping recall law, it said it would support the enactment of the proposed law.
However, it hoped that Article 48(6), which states that an elected representative who resigns from his or her seat will be barred from contesting for five years, would be repealed.
This would allow a representative to resign as a matter of principle from his/her party and contest for the same seat to get a fresh mandate from voters.
Defining party hopping
According to law minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, three criteria qualify an action to be considered party hopping, as contained in an earlier draft of the anti-hopping bill labelled the Constitution (Amendment) Bill.
The first is when an MP announces that he/she is leaving the political party under which he/she contested in an election to become an independent member or to join another political party.
The second is when an MP is expelled from his/her political party and joins another party, and the third is when an independent MP joins any political party after winning in an election.
On March 30, Bernama reported Wan Junaidi as saying that a provision for recall elections would be included in the bill. He said the sitting elected representative would be allowed to contest the seat on behalf of his/her new party in the fresh election.
However, he added, details of the bill were still being worked out.
Consequences of not passing the anti-hopping bill
Wan Junaidi explained previously that an anti-hopping law was required to enhance political stability and public confidence in the democratic process as well as to ensure the decision made by voters is respected.
Vendargon said the importance of the law was, among other things, to uphold important principles of constitutional and electoral rights.
“It is to ensure that the will of the voters is not thwarted by unscrupulous elected representatives.
“If the bill is not passed and does not become law, immoral representatives of political parties can continue to exploit their positions for personal gain, monetary or otherwise, at the expense of their voters. It also leads to political instability,” he said.
Implications at the state-level
During the recent Johor and Melaka state elections, the BN had promised to enact an anti-hopping law at the state level if it were to win.
Vendargon said if the anti-hopping law was to be constitutional, and to overcome the legal implications of the Federal Court decision on freedom of association and dissociation, the Federal Constitution would need to be amended by Parliament.
“However, if any state anti-hopping laws are passed without a Federal Constitution amendment, then they must be crafted by providing for recall elections which do not offend the freedom to disassociate,” he said.