Following the PPBM leadership’s decision to welcome seven former Umno MPs into its fold, the question of crossovers in Malaysian politics has resurfaced. Those who support this practice defend it in the name of freedom of association, while those opposing it argue that it is a betrayal of the voter.
Perhaps the issue itself has to be re-framed. At stake is how elected representatives view the mandate they receive from their voters.
Most of the time, the mandate a candidate receives is inextricably linked to the party he/she represents. Hence, it is incumbent on them to return the right to elect once again to the people if they can no longer defend the party that helped them assume the post.
And it is this principle of returning the mandate to the voter that should be adhered to.
In concrete terms, this means that a legislator who does not want to continue his association with a certain party should resign from his position. He can re-contest his seat if he so wishes, but he must first return the mandate to the people. That is what respect for the people, the voter, means in a democracy.
It is not true that this idea of returning the mandate to the voter infringes upon a legislator’s freedom of association. The legislator is free to join any new group he is inclined towards. He can even re-contest his seat on behalf of his new party.
A number of us have proposed this idea for decades. The powers-that-be showed no interest. Now that a new government is in power, we hope that it will introduce a new law, “Returning the Mandate to the Voter”, which will not only empower the voter but also enhance democratic governance.
One hopes that Pakatan Harapan (PH) legislators and members will persuade their leaders to formulate such a law instead of mercilessly criticising PPBM for admitting former Umno MPs.
The proposed law should be included among an array of new legislation that the government intends to present to Parliament during the course of the year.
PH members should realise that unfettered attacks on PH chairman and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on this issue could have dire consequences. Not only would this criticism undermine his credibility; he could even choose to abandon the PH ship.
Since he is the glue that holds the four-party coalition together and is the indispensable force sustaining the PH government at this stage, his departure in this manner could only spell disaster for the nation.
Of course, for those of us who have struggled and sacrificed for genuine meaningful change for so long, especially through civil society, the nine-month-old PH government has been a disappointment in certain areas.
Nonetheless, it is trying to overcome monumental challenges generated by the kleptocratic tendencies of the previous administration, thereby strengthening public accountability. Since it is still early days, the PH government deserves to be given a chance to prove its worth.
The admission of former Umno MPs may not be just about the power of an individual or his party. Mahathir is perhaps acutely conscious of the fact that PH has the support of only about 27% of the Malay electorate when 60% of the population is Malay and almost two-thirds of all legislators at federal and state level are Malay and Muslim.
He knows this disjuncture implies that the government must govern effectively and introduce reforms. Increasing PH’s parliamentary strength could be part of efforts to close the gap.
But ethics tell us that it is not the solution. The PH government has to gain full support of the majority of Malays and Bumiputeras through sincere implementation of policies that bring direct benefits to the B40 and M40 segments of society.
At the same time, Malays, Bumiputeras and all Malaysians should feel secure in the newly-emerging political configuration, which is multi-ethnic with a Malay-Muslim Bumiputera core that is reflective of the evolution of contemporary Malaysia. Creating that feeling of security through tangible action should be the government’s priority in 2019.
Chandra Muzaffar is the former chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan Perpaduan Malaysia.
The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.