Anti-hopping law is unconstitutional, immoral and ineffective ― Na’im Brundage

(MMO) – The calls for an anti-hopping law are again abuzz in Malaysia’s political circuit. This is expected considering that the country has just gone through another political crisis that resulted in an entirely new government albeit with many of the same faces in Cabinet.

The leading proponent of the anti-hopping law this time is Azalina Othman, the former Parliamentary Deputy Speaker who recently resigned from the position citing that she wants to make room for reforms. The reasons why reforms could not be accomplished with her maintaining her position as deputy speaker is still unclear.

Recently she has gone as far as to create an FAQ on the purported anti-hopping law on her Facebook page which has since been published widely in the media.

Her main argument for the anti-hopping law is that party hopping is unprofessional and that it produces political instability. This is odd considering that she was a part of the 15 Umno MPs who orchestrated the recent political crisis against the now ex-Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin from PPBM.

She then continues by giving examples of what constitutes party-hopping that would result in MPs losing their position as parliamentarians and they are:

• MPs leaving or getting sacked by their political party.

• MPs of a political party that is now banned or deregistered.

• MPs voting in Parliament based on their conscience instead of toeing the party line.

All three of the examples given by Azalina leave room for abuse by either the leaders of the political parties or by the government of the day.

1. How can it possibly be morally justified that MPs who are sacked by their party lose their position in Parliament? The decision to sack political party members is more often than not made at the discretion of political party leaders and disciplinary bodies, this would leave room for abuse by political parties’ leadership to undermine the mandate of the people for the sake of their own interests. We must not forget that these MPs were voted into the Parliament by the people of their constituency, the votes of the people during the general election should not be trumped by the decision of the victors of party elections.

2. MPs who are members of political parties that have been banned or deregistered should not lose their position as MPs. This law if implemented could potentially be abused by any government of the day to strip the position of MPs that threatens them by banning or deregistering their political parties. Stability should never come at the price of authoritarianism.

3. It is morally irresponsible for anyone to recommend an MP vote based on their conscience instead of toeing party lines to lose their position as MPs. What we need to do is the complete opposite, which is to empower MPs to make their vote based on their calculation of what will bring the most benefit to the people of their constituency over the interest of their political party. The interest of the people should always trump the interest of political parties in Parliament.

The leading proponents of the anti-hopping law have a few commonalities and that is that they believe:

1. The people voted in elections based on political parties and not candidates

This notion underestimates the thinking capability of Malaysian voters, reducing it to only the dimension of political parties. The average Malaysian voter may have taken into consideration a multitude of different factors including but not limited to the individual candidates contesting. As such, it is just as likely that the people’s support for an MP is not waivered when the MP chooses to cross the aisle to a different political party. In this case, it cannot be argued that the individual MP has betrayed the mandate given to him during the election and thus requiring a recall election.

2. Anti-hopping law can prevent or minimise future political crises from occurring

This prediction is entirely untrue based on careful observation of recent political crises. The events leading to the collapse of Muhyiddin Yassin’s government for instance did not include events of party hopping. The 15 Umno MPs who pulled their support from Muhyiddin Yassin’s government did not have to leave their political party or even vote against the party line in Parliament to bring about the fall of the government and the ensuing political crisis. Thus implementing an anti-hoping law would be futile against incidents such as these.

Another example that can be given is during the Sheraton Move whereby the political party of PPBM switches allegiance to another political coalition to bring about the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government. The MPs from PPBM in this case did not hop from their party as their party hopped with them to a different coalition. The proponents of the proposed anti-hopping law have yet to explain how the law that they are proposing can overcome situations such as these.

3. Political parties’ leadership are constant

Proponents of the anti-hopping law fail to include the equation of changes of party leadership. In the hypothetical situation that the direction of a political party changes dramatically after a change in leadership. An anti-hopping law that restricts conscience voting as one touted by Azalina would inadvertently trap MPs in a situation whereby they either have to vote in favour of this new direction by their party or maintain their voting pattern in Parliament based on what they had promised voters during the election. If this anti-hopping law is passed, the votes of political party members during party elections can be regarded as carrying more weight than that of the votes of the people during general elections because MPs will be made subservient to the commands of their political party leaderships potentially at the expense of the people.

To conclude, the anti-hopping law proposed is unconstitutional and goes against the very spirit of freedom imbued in it. The very fact that there needs to be an amendment to the Constitution for this Act to be passed into law is then not surprising. The law is also immoral as it restricts MPs from voting based on their conscience and forces them to vote based on the whims of their political party leaders, whoever that is at the time. The proposed anti-hopping law is also ineffective in discouraging political instability as illustrated by the two examples given based on the latest incidents of political crises, the Sheraton Move and the more recent Kleptocrat Move.