Monday, August 15

Democracy wins the day with passing of Anti-Hopping Bill

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A general view of the Dewan Rakyat chamber on July 13, 2022. — Bernama photo

THE days of the political nomad are over. No more will he be able to leave the paddock in search of opportunities where influence, power, and fortune flourish. He doesn’t have any other option. He will lose his position, financial rewards, and other advantages. Such an error could cost him his entire political career.

The law is now looking down its nose at those with such nefarious ambitions and will be unforgiving on those who breach it.

The wheel of Malaysian democracy is being reinvented, with all eyes on the Anti-Hopping Bill, which opens up a new narrative for Malaysian electoral politics.

Political resetting has arrived, providing a resurgence to the definitive meaning of representative democracy ala Westminster.

As the drum beats louder, with the hopes and optimism of a reformed democracy ringing loud in parliament and resonating across the country’s democratic landscape, the Anti-Hopping law is set to restore the dignity and integrity of political parties and the sanctity of the power of the voting masses which are essentially the fundamental source and force behind the mandated powers in the democratic system. Take away the two key components and the democratic process would be rendered hollow and dysfunctional.

Morality and integrity

Of significance to the spirit and letter of the legislation is the centrality of concern over social morality and integrity, the lack or absence of which would give space and breeding ground for politicians to turn frogs and hop out of their pond to a new and prospective territory.

Brand loyalty and love for the party were pushed out of their vocabulary, only to be replaced by phrases of praise for the party they sought refuge in – a party that had once been a bitter adversary but had since risen to power and control. The political frog’s story is one of vanity and short-term gain. It is a hollow and fleeting pursuit of personal acclaim at the expense of the masses and the party that raised him. The ‘frog’ is almost certain to end up in self-defeat.

The Anti-Hopping Bill is a landmark piece of legislation, and its passage in parliament by an overwhelming two-thirds majority is widely regarded as a watershed moment for Malaysian politics, especially after it was negotiated and discussed by both the Opposition and the Government. It also serves us well to be reminded that the Anti-Hopping legislation was a key component in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and Pakatan Rakyat-led opposition side.

Growing political maturity

Ismail Sabri in the Dewan Rakyat on July 27, 2022. – Bernama photo

The passage of the legislation at the MoU discussion table demonstrates the growing maturity of the party leaders involved, despite their political differences, and the unity of purpose achieved when they set their minds on initiating the Bill until it was passed in parliament. Above all, the Bill’s passage is a success story of meaningful collaboration between the ruling party’s leadership and the opposition’s leadership, with the interests of the people and the democratic process taking precedence over partisan politics.

It is a noble act that crosses political lines and resonates with millions of people across the country. It is reasonable for the people to expect more collaborative initiatives from leaders and politicians on both sides of the political divide in the aftermath of the anti-hopping law.

The tabling of the Constitution (Amendment)(No.3) Bill 2022 on Anti-Hopping by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob is as historically significant as the previous Amendment pertaining to Malaysia Agreement 1963. It is a historic milestone that bodes well for the country’s political stability, and the legislation should send a ‘clear message’ to all lawmakers to uphold the principles of the political parties they represent, as well as the mandate and confidence bestowed upon them by voters. Anything less is a betrayal of the party and the voters’ mandate.

Restoring parliamentary democracy

‘Parliamentary democracy has been restored,’ cries the media, joined by countless numbers of netizens echoing the celebratory message in a similar euphoric tone.

The nation came together and was united in celebrating the beginning of a new era in the interplay of politics and democracy a day after the Anti-Hopping Bill was passed on July 28.

It may well be the beginning of a new learning curve for political parties and politicians alike. Many lessons of the past that did not augur well for healthy democracy have to be unlearned and new lessons derived from the Anti-Hopping law have to be learned and incorporated into the party operating framework.

The party’s constitution must be reviewed to ensure that there is an anti-hopping provision that is consistent with the recently passed Bill, and that the constitutional amendment that follows satisfies the requirement of the Registrar of Society.

Political resetting

The Bill has wide-ranging implications on behavioural politics as much as it encourages holistic approach to dealing with the social and psychological dynamics across the vast expanse of Malaysian politics. In light of this, political parties would do themselves justice by engaging in political resetting, which could begin with a review of the existing matrix and operating framework.

Political resetting would involve addressing and mitigating key issues and subjects such as the responsibility or accountability of elected representatives (MPs and ADUNs) to the party and electorate, the temptation of corrupt practices to gain power and wealth, morality, honour and dignity, integrity, evil of betrayal, trust deficit and democratic openness.

At the end of the day, the morality and integrity of the elected representatives must not be compromised. They, too, must be bold enough to say no to it. If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, and you would achieve nothing!

As former British PM Margaret Thatcher succinctly put it, “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

That should read as a mantra for MPs and Assemblymen who are now called upon to uphold their integrity and morality and be exemplary in their conduct to the people.

Institutionalised approach

In the long run, the approach must be institutionalised in order to be sustainable and credible, as well as to ensure that the party is impervious to compromise and corrupt practises, and that potential loopholes are closed.

Will the Anti-Hopping Law be able to completely prevent politicians from defecting to another party due to dissatisfaction or external temptation and promises?

Legally, the Anti-Hopping law should be sufficient deterrent to prevent any potential defector from leaving his party. In the event there is a minor loophole that can be exploited by the culprit, the burden of guilt should not rest completely on him. The receiving end should be held equally responsible and guilty of the offence and be punished accordingly.

However, the legislation is silent on this, thus far.

The Anti-Hopping legislation creates an enabling environment for the implementation of policy and legal reforms aimed at strengthening democratic processes and practises. As the parliamentary election approaches, the country will be keeping a close eye on potential political nomadic movements either before or after the polls, though this is unlikely.

Politics is created in the domain of mortals and shrewd contrivers, not in the company of heavenly angels, and mankind will never be completely free of the temptations of earthly power and wealth. Even if the law is staring him down, he will find a way to get what he wants. History has a way to reveal the ugly truth.

Call it political frogging, defection, or nomadism; it is a heinous act of self-aggrandisement that leaves the politician without a bus stop.

* Toman Mamora (PhD Nottingham, UK) is a communication and research consultant. He comments on contemporary social and political issues and seeks to raise public opinion on subjects of societal value.