Friday, May 20, 2022

Anti-hopping law to benefit court cluster in quest to dissolve Parliament?

It could also profit political parties with a long history of turmoil, leading to more frequent by-elections.

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A provision in the much talked about anti-hopping bill is set to benefit a group of Umno leaders facing corruption charges who have been pressuring Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to call for early polls, MalaysiaNow has learnt from several MPs from the Malay party opposed to the group of politicians known as the court cluster.

The bill, aside from causing elected representatives to lose their seats if they switch party loyalties after being elected, could see those sacked from their parties losing their seats as well, even if the sackings were wrongful, unfair or done under controversial circumstances.

This is because a separate law gives political parties a blanket right when it comes to the expulsion of members.

Under the Societies Act 1966, any decision by a political party relating to its affairs cannot be challenged in court.

This means that sacked MPs who may have spoken out against party policies will lose their seats without any legal recourse.

“So, read together with the anti-hopping bill, this is almost a godsend for the court cluster group in Umno, which everyone knows is in authority and has control over the party’s disciplinary process,” an Umno MP who declined to be identified told MalaysiaNow.

The court cluster, a euphemism for a group of former government leaders and MPs facing criminal charges, is led by Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former prime minister Najib Razak.

Late last year, Najib lost his appeal to overturn his corruption conviction over RM42 million in his personal accounts. He is currently awaiting his final bid at the Federal Court to avoid his 12-year jail term.

Meanwhile, the corruption trial of Zahid, who has been told to enter his defence for 47 charges involving millions of ringgit from a charity foundation, is due to start late this month.

Last month, Najib and Zahid led a campaign at the party’s general assembly to have the election called earlier, hoping that its recent victories in the Melaka and Johor state elections could be replicated at the national level, restoring the Umno-led Barisan Nasional government which was toppled in 2018.

Observers agree that a general apathy among voters in the post-pandemic era had contributed to some of the lowest voter turnouts in Malaysian electoral history, allowing Umno to cash in on its hardcore supporters and return to power.

Many have also linked Najib and Zahid’s fervour for elections to a strategy to escape their criminal charges through the restoration of the federal power enjoyed by Umno before the 14th general election.

But the pair face stiff resistance not only from Ismail, whose support for the top post also depends on Umno’s nemesis Perikatan Nasional (PN), but from Umno and BN Cabinet members opposed to the court cluster as well.

“If this anti-hopping bill becomes a law and is gazetted, Zahid and Najib could kill two birds with one stone: first, cleansing the party of these anti-court cluster MPs and ministers, and as a result of that, causing Ismail’s government to fall due to these MPs losing their status,” said a source close to Johor Umno.

Zahid’s support for the anti-hopping law is uncharacteristic of Umno’s stand over the past few decades, when the party had attracted opposition representatives into its fold to boost its numbers.

In the 1990s, the absence of an anti-hopping law favoured Umno in its bid to bring down the PAS-led Kelantan government. The same occurred in 2009 when it engineered the fall of the DAP-led Perak administration.

While full details of the proposed anti-hopping law have yet to emerge, Zahid has been among its biggest supporters, alongside several leaders from PKR.

When asked whether the bill took into account the wide powers given to political parties under the Societies Act, law minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar avoided giving details.

“We are still in the process of drafting the bill and I am not going to discuss it in public yet,” he told MalaysiaNow.

On April 7, Wan Junaidi, who is the co-chair of a steering committee on the government’s MoU with PH, said plans for the anti-hopping law were still on, with an early draft of the act to be distributed before the April 11 parliamentary sitting.

He said amendments would also be tabled to introduce an enabling clause under Article 10 of the constitution, for a new act that would bar MPs from switching camps. The amendments, however, would need a two-thirds majority support from MPs.

Unstable parties could destablise government?

Apart from benefitting Umno leaders eager for early polls, questions have also been raised about whether the anti-hopping law in its present draft would be abused by political parties with a long history of turmoil.

“It will be much easier to change government leaders only because a political party wants it so.

“And there will be no more need for all the political manoeuvring that we witnessed some time back in Kajang,” said one PKR insider, referring to the 2014 Kajang Move, a failed bid by Anwar Ibrahim to instal his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the Selangor menteri besar by forcing a by-election in the Kajang state constituency.

The plan drew stiff resistance from PAS, then part of the Pakatan Rakyat government in Selangor.

A power vacuum ensued following the resignation of then MB Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, with the Selangor ruler refusing Wan Azizah’s nomination.

The PKR source said the anti-hopping law’s inclusion of sacking within the scope of party hopping would make it easier to oust government leaders who are not in sync with the party’s top brass.

“And when seen in the context of an unstable and ever bickering political party such as PKR, it means by-elections will be held more often, whenever an elected representive is expelled,” it added.

When contacted by MalaysiaNow, a spokesman from the Election Commission said such a scenario was possible, adding however that it was too early to comment.

“It (the anti-hopping bill) has not yet been tabled. So we have no idea about its contents. It’s not even tabled and far from being gazetted,” he added.

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