One of the most important bills to be tabled in Parliament was recently passed by both the Dewan Rakyat and the Senate but, although it was talked about, I felt it didn’t get the attention it deserved from the public.
Certainly, politicians and NGOs which had been pushing for the bill were vocal about it but not so much the ordinary citizen. I feel it has not been lauded enough.
I’m referring to the anti-hopping bill which is set to become law once the Yang di-Pertuan Agong signs it. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said on Aug 16 that it would be presented to the King for approval and gazetted in the first week of September.
Like most Malaysians, I’m looking forward to it. Although I would have much preferred it if our politicians were ethical and did not need a law to prevent them from defecting when it suited them – I believe in citizens enjoying as much freedom as possible – I accept that standards have dropped and we need such a law.
A total of 209 of the 220 MPs in the Dewan Rakyat said aye on July 28. Eleven MPs were absent when the count was taken. Fifty-two senators supported the Constitution (Amendment) Bill (No. 3) 2022 on Aug 9 while seven senators were absent.
The new law stipulates that any MP who chooses to jump to another party will lose his or her seat. Exemptions are provided for MPs who are sacked by their party or whose party is dissolved or deregistered, and for an MP who is elected as the Dewan Rakyat Speaker.
It also does not apply to senators.
Let’s hope that all the states follow suit and amend their constitutions to include an anti-hopping law for state assemblymen. I hope they do it before the next general election.
The anti-hopping law is important because it will prevent elected representatives from betraying the people’s mandate. It should also result in a reduction in corrupt practices. Importantly too, it means that, finally, political instability caused by defections can be addressed.
Much of the country’s woes today are due to political instability arising from selfish MPs who defected from their parties and betrayed the votes of their constituents after the last general election.
The Pakatan Harapan government which was duly elected by voters on May 9, 2018 collapsed on Feb 24, 2020 due to defections and realignments of support. It was the greatest betrayal of voters ever in Malaysian history.
The majority of MPs from Bersatu and a bunch of MPs from PKR decided that they were not happy with the people’s choice and broke away from the PH coalition.
Subsequently, Bersatu’s Muhyiddin Yassin formed a new unelected government on March 1, 2020.
But even before this happened, a significant number of elected representatives, mostly from Umno, crossed over to the then Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led Bersatu. And this is what emboldened most of the Bersatu MPs to break away from PH.
However, it was not smooth sailing for Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional government as it spent most of the time fighting its own ally Umno to stay in power. The inevitable happened on Aug 16, 2021 and Muhyiddin had to admit defeat and tender his resignation.
This led to Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob, a compromise candidate, taking over the post of prime minister. He was smart enough to sign a memorandum of understanding with PH to ensure some stability – and save his position.
Still, an internal rift within his own party – between several people backing him and what is known as the court cluster led by Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Najib Razak – has thrown a spanner in the works.
He’s also having problems dealing with the demands of Bersatu. Recently, Ismail’s coalition partner Bersatu threatened to withdraw support if he did not acquiesce to its demands.
The end result is that Ismail is struggling to assert his authority in the party, and stay on as PM.
In the meantime, the economy took a dive due largely to the Covid-19 pandemic fallout and the political instability caused by the defections.
According to reports, foreign investors are looking to Indonesia, Vietnam and elsewhere because they fear the political uncertainty in Malaysia.
Fortunately, the memorandum of understanding signed between Ismail’s government and PH has helped bring about some stability, although the threat of collapse remains.
The MoU played a major role in ensuring the passage of the anti-hopping law and Malaysian voters have to be grateful to PH for its tenacity in pushing it through.
On Sept 13, 2021, Ismail’s government and PH signed a MoU on Transformation and Political Stability. It was aimed at ensuring political stability and allowing Ismail’s government to focus on battling the Covid-19 pandemic and revitalising the economy.
Under the MoU, Ismail’s government agreed to introduce parliamentary reforms, ensure the independence of the judicial institution, restore aspects of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and enact an anti-hopping law.
PH kept pressing the government to move ahead with the anti-hopping law every time there was a delay, with even a threat that it would take to the streets if the bill was not tabled in Parliament.
Many people have asked how it is that the MPs finally agreed to a law that restricts their political freedom of association.
It’s simple: They sensed the feeling of the people; they read the mood on the ground correctly and responded accordingly.
The public is fed up with the antics of politicians who hop from one party to another. Sometimes they hop in a group, resulting in a change in government. The PH government at the federal level collapsed because of this and, subsequently, did several state governments.
Even in earlier elections, defections had stymied the choice of voters.
Voters could no longer stomach the betrayal by their elected representatives, with politicians who hopped party becoming the brunt of jokes, and labelled as frogs.
Meanwhile, MPs who had not betrayed their voters felt their reputations were being sullied by these “frogs” and that they had to arrest this situation.
On all sides, individuals and NGOs were calling for an anti-hopping law. The message struck home and they relented.
The ramifications of this piece of legislation are huge.
We are about to face a general election soon, probably in October, and political analysts have predicted that there is unlikely to be a clear winner after GE15. If that is the case, whichever party wins the highest number of seats will have to negotiate with other parties to form a government.
With the new law in place, MPs cannot defect or they’ll lose their seats.
So, the likelihood of instability, at least at the federal level, is greatly reduced. It is possible that there’ll still be volatility due to new alignments, with each party attempting to gain a bigger slice of power, but MP defections will not contribute to it.
If defections are prohibited by law, there’ll also be less corruption.
That is why I feel we should acknowledge the tremendous significance of this law, including the fact that it speaks volumes about “people power”.
More than anything else, the passing of the anti-hopping law is a victory for the voter. It goes to show that voters – if they are focused and persistent – can bring about change. It may take time, but it will happen.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.