An anti-defection law may not be an ironclad guarantee against political defections among elected representatives, but it may help build leaders of high integrity, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
While Malaysians were grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing economic hardship, some politicians were busy indulging in shenanigans brought about the collapse of the democratically elected Pakatan Harapan state governments of Johor, Perak and Malacca.
Several PH assembly members have joined Perikatan Nasional parties or become PN-friendly, to the effect of destabilising and eventually reducing the PH majority in the state assemblies concerned. These defections occurred in the wake of the Sheraton Move, which ultimately triggered the collapse of the PH federal government in February.
It is disconcerting that such brazen moves were made, as if the people’s interests and concerns are trivial. These politicians appear to have lost the essence of being elected representatives and have betrayed the mandate of the people who voted for them on their respective party tickets.
As if this wasn’t enough, the people’s sensibilities were severely offended by the uncouth conduct of some reps. Human and political decency has been thrown out the window, which partly explains why non-government media outlets have been barred from covering certain proceedings.
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Political foes were called names from the animal world, votes were counted when rival politicians were not present, and there was an alleged attempt to forcibly remove an assembly speaker during a session.
Are ordinary Malaysians expected to be helpless spectators of such arrogance?
To be sure, defections are not new in the country’s political landscape. In fact, such acts have implicated parties from both sides of the divide.
In the 1994 Sabah state election, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) led by Joseph Pairin Kitingan won by a slim majority, securing 25 seats against Barisan Nasional’s 23. The fourth-term PBS government collapsed after about two weeks following defections to BN.
There was also an attempt to dislodge the BN federal government on 16 September 2008 by the opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim, but it failed even though a few MPs did promise to jump ship.
After PH became the government, its components, particularly Bersatu, accepted defectors from Umno to bolster their numbers.
Of course, this isn’t to say two wrongs make a right, and the fact that it has occurred a few times over the years shouldn’t make it normal either.
The defections that occurred recently were worrying enough to prompt political observers and concerned Malaysians to call for a halt to such developments. This was especially so at a time when attention should have been focused on battling the pandemic and addressing the economic problems faced by Malaysians, particularly the needy.
As in the past, an ‘anti-hopping’ law has been suggested to tackle the problem of defections. However, those taking this road have been rightfully reminded about the constitutional provision of freedom of association. Hence, jumping ship is indeed legit.
Political disillusionment and ideals may drive politicians to resign from their parties, and they should therefore have the freedom to make the conscious decision to join another. However, as illustrated by the above examples, most cases involve political expediency rather than ideals, especially when some have been lured by handsome financial rewards.
While an anti-hopping law may not necessarily be an ironclad guarantee to ensure politicians are of strong moral fibre, it is hoped that it would go a long way towards helping build some leaders of high integrity. It is also essential for good governance.
Admittedly, it is a long road towards crafting such a law, as there are constitutional obstacles to be overcome. But a start must be made.
After all, shouldn’t the interests and concerns of the rakyat come before the vested interests of questionable politicians?