Malaysia in search of political stability

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Could the anti-party hopping law for upcoming elections be the solution?  

By Aniello Iannone

On February 23, 2020, during the government led by the Pakatan Harapan coalition (PH), exponents of the Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) party, the main party of the PH coalition, meet with members of the Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu (PEKEMBAR) party, at the Hotel Sheraton, in Kuala Lumpur.

That event, known in the media as "Sheraton Move," will cause the collapse of the PH coalition with the exit from the coalition of the BERSATU party and a fraction of the Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) party. This event will cause a government crisis in Malaysia with Mahathir's resignation on February 24, 2020.

The events that preceded the Sheraton Move are linked to the victory of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition during the G-14 (14th General Election) when the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was defeated after 60 years in command.

The PH coalition, led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, managed to gain support during the G14 by taking advantage of internal weakness in the opposing coalition.

This weakness resulted from the tax scandal involving Najib Razak within the Barisan Nasional coalition and the Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu (PEKEMBAR) party, better known by the English acronym UMNO. 

However, after less than 22 months of PH's rule, the ideological differences between the parties within the PH coalition, with weak leadership at its helm, led to its crumbling. The unfulfilled promise by Mahathir to cede the role of prime minister to Anwar Ibrahim has given rise to a crisis within PH, which has consequently led to the exit from the coalition of an entire party, BERSATU, and a fraction of the Keadilan Rayat party (PKR). A government crisis began in Malaysia from these events, known as the Sheraton Move. 

This crisis led to the resignation of Mahathir and the beginning of an alternation of governments. First of all, there was the government of Muhyiddin Yassin, followed by the formation of the government of Ismail Sabri Yaakob, exponent of the UMNO / PEKEMBAR party and of the Barisan Nasional coalition in August 2021, currently in office. 

Why an anti-party hopping law now? 

The problem of the government crisis opened a debate in Parliament for an anti-party hopping bill. The law would require any members of Parliament who change parties during legislation not to be able to continue their role as a parliamentarian. Members of Parliament (MPs) who change parties do not maintain loyalty to the part of the population who voted for them. The law would also prevent larger parties from attracting members of smaller parties (Chacko, 2020)

The practice of “hopping” from one party to another by parliamentarians is not new in Malaysian politics. The political crisis in Sabah in 1994 started when supporters of the Bersatu Sabah (SPB) party, which won the state elections against BN, left the party to join the opposing party.

After the events of the Sheraton Move, the PH and the current government have agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which states that the plan for an anti-party hopping bill should be implemented no later than the first session of the fifth session of Parliament. To date, the law plan has been postponed for further insights.

Analyzing Malaysia's political and constitutional situation, an anti-hopping law should revise various articles of the Malaysian constitution, in particular article 10. The Mahkamah Persekutuan Malaysia (Federal Court) 1992 declared an anti-hopping law illegitimate because it went against 'Article 10 of the constitution, which defines freedom of association.

To deal with this regulatory conflict, the government has asked for a reform of Article 10. Should this reform pass, it will introduce a clause (A) in paragraph 3 of Article 10, i.e., the introduction of limitations for members of Parliament who change party during a period of active government and the introduction of a second clause stating that the act of hopping is harmful to public order (Loh, 2020)

Uncertainties: Is it heading in the right direction?

The events during the Sheraton Move may not justify the government's proposed law. The bill provides that if one member of Parliament leaves his party for another, they will automatically lose their role as parliamentarians. Nevertheless, what led to the Sheraton Move events stems from different problems. In that context, an entire party, BERSATU, left the PH coalition. Even if there had been an anti-hopping law, it still would not have changed events at the Sheraton. 

The law is currently being reworked. The lawyer for Liberty (LFL) group noted that an anti-hopping law could become a double-edged sword in the Malaysian context, with dangerous repercussions for democracy.

According to LFL, the bill lacks a concrete definition. According to LFL, this law does not concern itself with solving the problem of party-hopping but, in a contradictory way, grants decision-making power to the party to expel any members, limiting the independence of elected representatives.

In addition, this would put the parliamentarian below the decisions taken by the party, for fear of possible repercussions. 

The criticism of the bill also comes from parliamentarians. The MPs Nurul Izzah Anwar from the PH harshly criticized the bill. Anwar said that if this law were to be passed, parliamentarians would see their freedom and discretion restricted during their work in ParliamentParliament.

 

Reference 

Chocko D., P. (2020) “ Policy Briefs: party-hopping of Lawmakers in Malaysia: a menu of remedies. Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development, Sunway University 

Loh J. (2020) “Outlawing party hopping for good” EMIR Research 

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