August 29, 2021
In 2018, the de facto law minister, the late Liew Vui Keong, wrote in a parliamentary reply that an anti-party hopping law to deter lawmakers from defecting was not on the agenda for the government as it violates Article 10(1)(c) of the Federal Constitution – the freedom of association. However, the position for anti-party hopping legislation seems to have changed.
In August 2021, politicians from both sides of the aisle were reported to back the enactment of anti-party hopping laws.
Three days prior to his resignation on August 16, the then Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said that the Anti-Party Hopping Bill will be tabled in Parliament only to have another change in government which saw the premier position being taken by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri who was sworn in on August 21.
Any formal efforts to push for the tabling of the Bill has been left hanging since but one of the leading proponents of the anti-hopping law was Azalina Othman Said, the former Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker.
After resigning from the position on August 23 citing her wish to make room for reforms, Azalina created an FAQ on the purported anti-hopping law on her Facebook page explaining the characteristics of the law.
In her FAQ, Azalina highlighted that :
- Party-hopping makes politics chaotic and ignores the interests of the people. This run contrary to the purpose of Parliament – to represent the people’s interest;
- Anti-party hopping legislation aims to preserve democracy by preventing the abuse of political mandate given by the people; and
- Anti-party hopping legislation aims to reduce sudden changes to the balance of power between political parties.
Neighbouring countries such as Singapore enshrines anti-party hopping law in its constitution, stating that “seat of a Member of Parliament shall become vacant if he ceases to be a member of, or is expelled or resigns from, the political party for which he stood in the election” (Article 46(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore).
Given the recent political crises and protests, anti-party hopping provisions which can instill confidence in voters are more relevant than ever. Now is the time for a two-thirds bipartisan support from the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara on Constitutional amendments necessary for the law.
A study conducted in 2009 titled ‘Laws Against Party Switching, Defecting, or Floor Crossing in National Parliaments’ by Kenneth Janda of the Northwestern University revealed that there were 41 countries with such anti-defection laws (as reasonably accurate as of 2007, Pg 4).
Laws that ban party defections are more common in nascent democracies than in established democracies.
This is linked to the fact that party switching is more prevalent in new, developing or non-Western democracies like Malaysia. This shows that the debate on whether anti-party hopping law should be enacted is a subjective one, based on the political scene in the specific country.
Therefore, while the Malaysian Parliamentary system is based on the Westminster system, no direct or universal conclusion can be made to annul efforts to enact an anti-party hopping law in Malaysia as of yet, due to the UK’s lack of anti-party hopping law, especially since the UK is an established democracy.
Further, the extent of political accountability in the UK is far greater, with discouragement from party-hopping emerging in the form of political reaction from the electorate.
In Malaysia, the challenges remain that opposing views regarding the law have been rife.
Malaysian lawyers have raised concerns that the law may prohibit politicians from genuinely switching parties out of conscience instead of for personal gain, for instance, where politicians act in the interests of voters who may deem that a particular party has betrayed its cause.
Therefore, it is difficult to draw the line on when it is acceptable to switch parties.
Nonetheless, if enacting anti-party-hopping legislation is the path Malaysia is looking to undertake, studying the 41 countries’ anti-party hopping models as a guide is a good start so that a suitable anti-defection Bill beneficial to the needs and issues faced within the local Malaysian framework can be better developed.
The socioeconomic and political circumstances for every country vary from one another, so are the characteristics of their respective legal frameworks.