Calls for an anti-hopping law have grown stronger since the Sheraton Move that saw the downfall of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government less than two years after the historic 14th general election in 2018.
Shortly after the change of federal government to Perikatan Nasional (PN), the PH administrations in Johor, Melaka, Perak and Kedah also fell to PN when PH assemblymen quit their parties, mostly to become independents in support of PN.
The Warisan-PH state government in Sabah also appears to be on shaky ground after two Upko assemblymen quit their party to become independent representatives backing PN, as rumours grow about more government assemblymen following suit.
Selangor Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari demanded that Sementa assemblywoman Dr Daroyah Alwi vacate her seat after she quit PKR, describing her actions as a betrayal to the people that elected PH as the Selangor government in the 14th general election.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow similarly said a state law deems that legislative seats can be declared vacant, after Bersatu pulled out from PH. The two Bersatu assemblymen in Penang confirmed last month that they have withdrawn their support for the PH state government.
The main crux of the argument for an anti-hopping law is that state and federal lawmakers were elected in a general election on the basis of their party and, thus, should be removed from office when they leave their party.
However, this argument is deeply flawed because it ties legislative office to party affiliations. We can also never be sure whether every single voter in a constituency cast their ballot for a person because of the individual or party. The power of public office derives only from the people. Voters -- not political parties, the government, or court -- should have the sole power to remove the representatives that they elected into office.
If an anti-hopping law deems all legislative seats vacant upon a representative ceasing membership in a political party, then Muhyiddin Yassin and Shafie Apdal would have lost their Pagoh and Semporna seats when Umno sacked Muhyiddin in 2016 under the Najib Razak government, and when Shafie quit Umno shortly after. The duo had called for Najib’s resignation over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
Anti-hopping legislation also would have made it impossible for Warisan-PH to form the Sabah state government when Upko quit Barisan Nasional (BN) immediately after GE14, resulting in Shafie being sworn in as chief minister three days after Musa Aman was first sworn in when BN won a simple majority in Sabah during the May 9 poll.
Calling Kuala Penyu assemblyman Limus Jury and Sugut assemblyman James Ratib frogs isn’t really accurate since, well, they’re returning to support the same party, ie: BN, on whose ticket they won in GE14.
Then, there is Lubok Antu MP Jugah Muyang from Sarawak who won his seat in GE14 as an independent, joined PKR a few days after the election, but quit PKR recently to become an independent in support of PN.
How can an anti-hopping law factor in all these variables? Should lawmakers automatically lose their seats when they’re expelled from their party or if their party is dissolved, factors beyond their control? Should lawmakers automatically lose their seats when they quit their party in protest of corruption, or any other issues? What if most voters in a particular constituency are actually still happy with their defecting lawmaker because their representative had served them well?
The UK and the US have had lawmakers quitting the Conservative and Republican parties respectively over various issues, like Brexit and in protest of US president Donald Trump, but they do not lose their legislative seats upon resignation from their parties.
So why should Malaysia have an anti-hopping law?
Of course, the difference between Malaysia and those countries is that Malaysian lawmakers seem primarily driven by a lust for power, not because of any particular issue that they genuinely care about.
Instead of a blanket anti-hopping law, Malaysia should create a mechanism that allows voters to remove elected representatives from office in between general elections, like a recall election that is practiced in several countries.
Han Kuo-yu recently became the first Taiwan mayor in history to be recalled, with the number of ballots cast in favour of the recall exceeding the votes he received when he was elected Kaohsiung mayor in 2018. Taiwan has a three-step recall process: petitioners must gather signatures representing 1 per cent, and then 10 per cent of a district’s voters, before the recall election.
At least 25 per cent of eligible voters must vote in support of the recall, and the number of people voting for it must exceed those who vote against it. An acting mayor will be appointed to fill Han’s position temporarily, after which a by-election for a new mayor must be held within three months to serve out the rest of Han’s term.
The US also has recall elections. A businessman, who is heading a recall campaign against Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer in protest of Whitmer’s emergency declaration for the Covid-19 pandemic, must collect about 1.1 million recall signatures in 60 days to trigger a recall election (Michigan has 7.7 million registered voters). There is also a recall campaign against California governor Gavin Newsom – similarly over his response to the coronavirus crisis that supporters say had affected the state’s economy. The campaign must gather slightly less than 1.5 million California voter signatures by November 7 to trigger a recall poll (California has 19.9 million registered voters).
Four elected officials in California have been reportedly recalled since 2018, comprising a judge over his Brock Turner rape case ruling that sparked outrage, a senator over his gas tax vote, and two city councilmen for misconduct.
Some voters in Sementa seem angry enough with Daroyah for leaving PKR that banners have been put up telling her to vacate her seat. So, Malaysia should put recall elections into place to allow voters to kick out representatives in between general elections.
If Malaysia decides to implement recall elections, I would argue for high thresholds because a voter’s decision in an election shouldn’t be easily overturned. A requirement of recall signatures comprising at least 10 per cent of registered voters in a constituency to trigger a recall election might be fine to start off with. So a huge seat like Kapar would require at least some 14,000 recall signatures, while Putrajaya needs just about 1,600 signatures. Rules for a recall election should also impose a minimum number of participating voters supporting the recall.
Recall elections in Malaysia shouldn’t just be held for lawmakers quitting their parties. They should be able to be triggered for just about any reason really – whether it’s over a vote in Parliament on abolishing the death penalty, or supporting a ban on liquor.
Lawmakers who defect for the sake of power disgust me. There is no respect for public office in Malaysia. Many elected representatives across parties seem to treat their sacred office as a tool to gain riches, power, and authority, lording it over Malaysians with their “YB” titles, as ordinary citizens and businesses grovel for their approval.
Politicians do not deserve any more respect than a garbage collector making an honest living.
They were elected to serve us and, more importantly, to represent our interests. As long as we treat YBs like demi-gods who must be presented fruit baskets at every function they deign to grace, we will never be able to hold them accountable for the immense power they wield over our lives.