Party hopping continues despite new law

Kenneth Cheng Chee Kin

Instead of preventing defections, the anti-party hopping law has only facilitated more creative forms of defection. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 5, 2023.

JUST a few years ago, Malaysians were outraged when Muhyiddin Yassin and Azmin Ali seemingly engineered an impossible coup, replacing an elected government that had been roundly defeated in a general election.

The frustration and anger stemming from this betrayal of mandate forced former prime minister Ismail Sabri to introduce an anti-party hopping law. This law was later unanimously passed in parliament by both government and opposition MPs.

If the law was enacted to prevent another Sheraton Move, it may have achieved its objective.

Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition government, the first to be affected by this law, would undoubtedly be more concerned about political defections if the safeguards of the law were absent.

The coalition government was realised when Anwar obtained the en bloc support of Barisan Nasional, which was only possible because of the real threat to compel a rebellious MP to vacate his seat, thanks to the anti-party hopping law.

It is not entirely wrong to say that the creation of the coalition government was partly due to the restrictions imposed by the law, which effectively prevent MPs from defying party lines to support another candidate for prime minister.

Interestingly, the law prohibits an individual from defying party lines but allows a party to defy its own mandate if the party leadership agrees.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his party escaped the anti-party hopping law’s consequences when they decided to support Anwar. However, this move clearly contradicted the “No Anwar, No DAP” policy announced in Umno’s 2021 general assembly.

Those who voted for BN with the belief of cooperation with PKR and DAP may feel betrayed. If the spirit of Anti-Hopping is fully adhered to, both individuals and parties must be ready to face consequences if they consider crossing the floor.

It would be misleading to assume that party hopping is a non-event now that Anwar has become prime minister and enjoys a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The recent turmoil in Bersatu, where the MPs of Kuala Kangsar and Labuan have now pledged their support for Anwar, could be seen as a form of silent defection.

While it’s challenging for political observers to determine whether these MPs were blackmailed into supporting the current government, as alleged by Bersatu Secretary-General Hamzah Zainuddin, the reasons provided by the “defected” MPs, especially from Kuala Kangar, raise questions.

The Kuala Kangsar MP said that the cost-of-living crisis compelled him to support Anwar in his effort to revive the national economy. This seems like a weak excuse, as the country’s economic policy does not depend on a single MP’s support.

Moreover, the prime minister currently wields significant political power, with a two-thirds majority in parliament ensuring smooth implementation of economic policies, making the support of a single opposition MP negligible. The MP might contribute more to the national economy by staying in the opposition and scrutinizing and providing alternatives to the government’s economic agenda.

The Kuala Kangsar MP must realise that Anwar does not require his support at this stage.

Unless these “defected” MPs genuinely believe that Anwar is a more capable prime minister than Muhyiddin, the allegations by Bersatu should not be dismissed out of hand.

Most importantly, the government’s biggest benefit from these “defected” Bersatu MPs is not an increase in parliamentary advantage, as it already enjoys this, but rather the gradual decline of Bersatu as the opposition.

This situation highlights the limitations of the anti-party hopping law, as it cannot regulate the actions of these two MPs. Bersatu’s hands are tied, and these MPs are free to join another party without vacating their seats if they are expelled from the party – another loophole I explained in my previous article.

In this sense, the anti-party hopping law has actually given MPs the freedom to support an opposing faction within the party with no repercussions.

These scenarios were predicted when the limitations of the law were first discussed, and we are now experiencing the full effects of these limitations.

Instead of preventing defections, the anti-party hopping law has only facilitated more creative forms of defection.

Worst of all, it is happening under an administration that was once brought down by political defections. – November 5, 2023.

* Kenneth Cheng has always been interested in the interplay between human rights and government but more importantly he is a father of two cats, Tangyuan and Toufu. When he is not attending to his feline matters, he is most likely reading books about politics and human rights or playing video games. He is a firm believer in the dictum “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.

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