The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) yesterday submitted our written submission to the parliamentary special select committee on constitutional amendments to restrict party ‘hopping’ [defections].
This written submission was requested by the Legal Affairs Division (BHEUU) on behalf of the special select committee to Bersih and others on 27 April as part of their consultation process with civil society and other stakeholders….
We responded to seven questions posed by the special select committee and made our recommendations on what, in our opinion, is the best solution to address the challenges of party hopping. Our recommendations and positions are guided by these four principles:
- At the heart of democracy is the choice of voters who elected their representative to represent their aspirations. An elected representative is accountable to his or her constituents. A post-election change in affiliation by the elected representative must be affirmed by the same electorate who chose him or her and not a unilateral decision by the MP
- Freedom of association is fundamental in a democracy and the freedom of an elected representative in representative democracy to freely express the collective will of their electorate, even if it means going against the party leadership and leaving the party, must be protected
- Intra-party discipline is necessary for parties to effectively push through election promises, policies and make a clear stand as opposition on issues of national importance
- The ease and cost-effectiveness of implementation is a consideration but subservient to the above points.
Given the complexity of the problem of party hopping, Bersih recommends the following:
- An anti-hopping recall law be enacted to empower the constituent’s voters a chance to determine if the seat should be vacated or not. A recall petition is the best remedy for the problem of party hopping in our first-past-the-post system, as it can both hold elected representative accountable and allow the party system to evolve and stabilise
- The grounds for a recall petition be enshrined in the Federal Constitution, while the process, threshold and timeline [should be spelt out] in a separate Act of Parliament
- States must be given the freedom to explore and choose their preferred anti-hopping mechanism, which may be any variant of an anti-hopping law or anti-hopping recall law
- Abolish Article 48(6) of the Federal Constitution to allow an MP to resign from his or her seat in principled dissent and to recontest the same seat
- Article 54(1) should be amended to allow seat vacancies, even after the House has sat for three years. Suggest that a vacancy shall not be filled only when there is less than six months before the parliamentary term ends
- To stop the collapse of a government until the status of sacked or defected MPs is resolved through by-elections, the incumbent prime minister should remain as the interim PM, and a confirmatory vote of confidence should be held after the by-elections
- The loss of majority of a PM does not necessarily mean that there is another candidate who can command majority support from members of the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). To ensure political stability, a constructive vote of no confidence should be held to ensure that an incumbent PM can only be removed if there is a replacement candidate who commands a majority. This mechanism exists in the German parliament for the removal of the chancellor
- That the special select committee consider extending its term and the terms of reference be expanded to include other substantial factors that contribute to party-hopping, namely, unequal constituency development funds, appointments to government-linked companies, selective investigations by agencies like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Inland Revenue Board, and perceived selective prosecution by the attorney general
Bersih releases our submission to the special select committee for the sake of transparency and our accountability to the public. We have made known all our views, positions and recommendations on party hopping in statements and research reports these past two years, and we want to put this submission to the special select committee in the public domain. – Bersih