-By Alea Batrisya binti Yazid
Party hopping, party switching, party defecting, floor-crossing, carpet crossing, or canoe-jumping can be defined as an action by elected representative of Parliament or State Assembly Hall resigning from one political party to join another party. This action happened based on many reasons such as clash of beliefs or interest of the politician. Party hopping also can happened if one elected representative sacked from the party he was during the election and decided to join another political party. In a simple term any form of hopping from one party to another in an individual level considered as party hopping. However, any changes of the coalition status of one party does not count as party hopping.
Anti-Hopping Law can be defined as a set of rules and regulations put in place to prevent rampant party hopping plague from happening ever again. An anti-hopping law is designed to prevent elected representative who are elected under the ticket of a political party from hopping over to another political party after securing the contested seat. It is a highly debated issue right now because party hopping caused a lot of political instability in Malaysia especially in the past 3 years as the most significant event is the Langkah Sheraton in March 2020 which led to the fall of Pakatan Harapan government.
There are a few major issues regarding the draft of anti-hopping law in Malaysia even before its implementation. Some of them are the lack of clear definition of what anti-hopping law should be, issues regarding freedom of association, problems resulted by the absolute power given to the political party, and loopholes that would arise if parliament rushed the decision the amend the constitution.
The first one would be lack of clear definition. Although the term anti-hopping and anti-defecting were used interchangeably, the real meaning of these two terms cannot be any more different in the context this discussion. Party hopping can be interpreted as an action of mobility from one party to another while party defecting is not necessarily meaning a movement from one party to another but rather just a disassociation of an individual from one political party. A clear definition and a correct usage of term is very important to avoid confusion in implementing the laws. If Malaysia trying to achieve an absolute deterrence of party hopping, we should start with using the correct term. If a party defecting does not count as party hopping, technically Members of Parliament and Members of State Assembly should be given the freedom to stand alone as independent representative free from any direct attachment or commitment of any political party if they did not join any other party. Since anti hopping is the main problem here, there should be no problem allowing this to happened and it is also aligned with article 10 (1) (c) of Malaysia Constitution which emphasized the freedom association every citizen holds.
Second, freedom of association. The existing idea of Anti-hopping law contradict with Malaysia constitution regarding freedom to associate as mentioned above. Many people argues that the very existence of Anti-hopping law not only violate our freedom and constitution, but also very unnecessary since only a handful of developed countries having a similar law. Based on research paper by Kenneth Janda titled ‘Laws Against Party Switching, Defecting, or Floor-Crossing in National Parliament’, stated that only 5 out of 36 nation (14%) who considered as old democratic state implemented an anti-hopping law. Old democratic state considered as much more economically developed and politically stable and mature.
While it is true that to move forward as a developed country Malaysia does not need an anti-hopping law and having one in 2022 is really a step backward to achieve political maturity, we should admit that it is necessary as the first step to maintain the political stability which is very rare in Malaysia. Anti-hopping law right now is one of the most effective ways to babysit and control the party hopping plague which will directly affect the confidence of voters in a democratic nation. It is a sad reality, but we must face it.
Referring to the draft of Malaysia anti-hopping law, political party received a huge amount of power in decision making process of any party hopping case. If any of the elected representative sacked from a political party, that individual will automatically loses the seat in parliament or state assembly hall. As for now, there will be no independent body that will investigate the reasons behind the sacking. This will create a major problem because there are a lot of reasons why an individual sacked from a party and some exception reason must be determine so that it will be fair to the elected representative and deter too much power given to a political party.
The base argument of this issue is that an elected representative is elected to pursue the interest of the people and can be held accountable if there is any mismanagement and any actions against the interest of the people. However, because the power of sacking falls into the hands of the party which not necessarily consist of elected representative, thus they cannot be held accountable of the reason behind the sacking that might be purely political motivated. Furthermore, a huge power given to a party should be also come with a higher level of consequences if such power was misused by party.
As for now, the draft of the anti-hopping law consists of very similar premises as the laws of India, Singapore, and other Commonwealth countries. In a simple term, a seat of parliament will be considered vacant if the status of elected representative political party membership changes.
To conclude, the current state of anti-hopping law reflect that the future of elected representative lies at the mercy of the political party and not give the representative a breathing room to pursue the interest of the very people who elect them. An anti-hopping law may not always result a positive outcome, for example in India, after the amendment of the constitution in 1985, there are a spike in numbers merging of political party which caused even more problems and instability. Malaysia should not follow blindly what constructed by other nation, but rather learn from their mistake and formulate our unique sets of law which compatible and useful to be used to maintain the stability and security of our country.