Rumour has it that there are some politicians flying all over the country to induce a mass party-hopping, whether before or after the next general election. This calls into question the sanctity of the people’s vote and choice at the election. And if we view this from a macro viewpoint, it brings into sharp focus the mockery of democracy that this act may result in.
The exact motivation(s) of a voter in voting for a particular candidate will be hard to ascertain. Whether the voter votes for the candidate as an individual or for the party which the candidate represents will be a source for further study. The fact that a voter actually crosses at the column beside the party’s emblem to denote his or her support for that party/candidate on the ballot paper may however provide an important, though not definitive, clue to the question.
Be that as it may, the end result of a vote for any candidate would be the formation of the government by the political party whose candidates win the most number of seats. That is the thrust of our – and in fact, every - democratic process.
It follows that when a government can be changed by several elected representatives frog-jumping from an elected government to the opposition, the democratic process whereby our government is chosen and formed would be rendered a mockery. In the same breath, when a new government could be formed by an opposition, who has actually lost the election, by virtue of the frog-jumping acts, the whole foundation and premise of that new government is the betrayal of the people’s votes and choice.
That would be a sad reflection of where we are, in terms of democratic process, in the 21st century.
Yet, parliamentary defection is not peculiar to Malaysia. GC Malhotra, in his book, Anti-Defection Law in India and the Commonwealth, noted that the defection is also known “by different nomenclatures—such as "floor-crossing," "carpet-crossing," "party-hopping," "dispute" and "waka [canoe]-jumping." In fact “crossing the floor”, according to the Australian Parliamentary Library, 2005, sometimes refers merely to the act of voting on an issue with the opposition rather than the act of defecting to another party.
In the book, Malhotra listed anti-defection laws, in varied forms, enacted by India in 1973, 1985 and 2003. The 2003 law provides that a person can be disqualified from serving in parliament for "voluntarily giving up the membership of his original party" (2005: 965). Furthermore, the Indian law permits parliamentary expulsion simply for voting (or abstaining from voting) “in the House contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs."
Kenneth Janda, in his paper, “Laws Against Party Switching, Defecting or Floor Crossing in National Parliaments” (Northwestern University, August 2009), observes that at least 8 countries see defection as a serious mischief necessitating anti-defection rules in their respective constitution. These are Belize, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. Closer to home, even Singapore sees it fit to provide in its constitution a provision which reads:
Article 46 Tenure of Office of Members
(1) Every Member of Parliament shall cease to be a Member at the next dissolution of Parliament after he has been elected or appointed, or previously thereto if his seat becomes vacant, under the provisions of this Constitution.
(2) The seat of a Member of Parliament shall become vacant;
(b) if he ceases to be a member of, or is expelled or resigns from, the political party for which he stood in the election.
Janda observed that as of 2009, there were at least 41 nations which have anti-defection laws (as opposed to having a constitutional provision) in one form or another. Perhaps, the best rationale for anti-defection laws is best summarized by Scott W Desposato, as quoted by Janda in his paper: