Sunday, March 7, 2021

Lawyer says anti-hopping law crucial before next GE

This would not only restore trust in elections, but also allow the victors to focus on governing without being sidetracked by threats of defections.

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A lawyer has called for an anti-hopping act to ensure that the victors of the next general election can focus on governing without the fear of MPs switching loyalties, amid persistent threats by Umno to leave the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

Haniff Khatri Abdulla said such a law is also critical to restoring the public’s trust in the country’s parliamentary democracy, which he said is at its lowest.

He said if the current political situation continues, voters would not bother to cast their ballots at the 15th general election, said to be in the works.

“Say if we vote for someone and then he jumps ship the next day. How would the people be encouraged to participate in the election?” Haniff told MalaysiaNow.

Haniff Khatri Abdulla.

“How would they have confidence that the government they chose would remain?”

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his predecessor Najib Razak have been leading a campaign to convince the party leadership to quit the PN government, as they ramp up their criticism against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

The Umno Supreme Council on Wednesday decided to remain with the ruling bloc, but said several motions on whether it would cooperate with Muhyiddin’s Bersatu would be debated at its general assembly late this month.

The party will also debate whether to press for snap polls in the first quarter of the year despite warnings by health officials against holding a general election during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Haniff said a general election could be rendered irrelevant without an anti-hopping law in the face of public indifference.

He said no political party, whether established ones such as Umno or the yet-to-be registered such as Pejuang and Muda, has any strong political alliance.

He added that there is confusion on the political coalitions.

“We are not even sure if Muafakat Nasional, PN or Pakatan Harapan (PH) exists or not.

“How would they have confidence that the government they chose would remain?”

“So what’s the offer to the people at the next polls?”

Calls for an anti-hopping law, which would see a fresh by-election called if an MP switches his party membership, have dogged Malaysian parliamentary democracy for decades.

But in a landmark case in 1992, involving two Kelantan elected representatives from the now-abolished Semangat 46 who joined Umno, it was ruled that the duo had the constitutional right to remain as assemblymen despite switching parties.

As such, the then-Supreme Court nullified a state enactment on preventing party hopping, invoking the constitution’s Article 10 on freedom of association.

Since then, party hopping has occurred on both sides of the divide, with the Perak episode in 2009 and the collapse of the PH government last year showing the impact on the country’s administration when elected representatives switch sides.

At the moment, though, any move to enact an anti-hopping law appears unlikely.

Haniff said it would need amendments to the Constitution, which can only be passed with two-thirds support in the Dewan Rakyat – an unlikely scenario given the current political composition.

The amendments include adding switching parties as among reasons that would disqualify an MP or senator, as listed in Article 48.

“In practice, can it be done?” he asked.

He said there is one way such a law could still be enacted in time before the next general election.

It would, however, require the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to declare an emergency, where he could appoint an advisory council to propose amendments to the constitution for an anti-hopping law.

“So when Parliament convenes during an emergency, which MP would dare to oppose such a law?” he asked.

“This is the most practical way of enacting an anti-hopping law before the polls, and that is why a political emergency is crucial,” he added.

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