KOTA KINABALU (May 25): The Sabah Legislative Assembly on Thursday passed the Constitution of the State of Sabah (Amendment) Enactment 2023 aimed at preventing party-hopping by state elected representatives.
The bill garnered majority support from the assemblymen after it was tabled by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor, with 75 supporting while four were absent.
Based on Article 43 of the Sabah State Constitution, any amendment to the Constitution cannot be passed by the Legislative Assembly unless it has been supported on the second and third readings by a two-thirds majority vote.
During the second reading, state Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal (Warisan-Senallang) proposed a bloc vote for the 2nd clause of the bill aimed at deleting Article 6 (7) from the State Constitution.
Four clauses in the bill were approved with a majority vote, while bloc vote for Clause 2 was supported by 61 assemblymen who agreed that Article 6(7) of the State Constitution should be deleted. Fourteen assemblymen from Warisan disagreed, while four assemblymen were absent.
The four absent were Sabah Barisan chairman Datuk Bung Moktar Radin, Parti KDM president Datuk Peter Anthony (KDM-Melalap), his deputy Datuk Wetrom Bahanda (KDM-Bandau) and Barisan nominated assemblyman Datuk Suhaimi Nasir.
For the third reading of the bill, a total of 75 assemblymen expressed support while four assemblymen were absent.
Hajiji, when winding up the debate on the motion said the bill aimed to delete Article 6(7) in the Sabah State Constitution because it was no longer in line with the requirements under Article 6(3) following current political developments.
Article 6(3), among others, states that the Yang Dipertua Negeri of Sabah shall appoint as Chief Minister a member of the legislative assembly who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of a majority of the members of the assembly.
Article 6(7), meanwhile, states that the leader of a political party that has won a majority of the elected seats of the Legislative Assembly in a general election and who is a member of the assembly shall be the one who is likely to command the confidence of the majority.
Explaining further, Hajiji said since the 14th general election in 2018, no political party had obtained a majority to govern the state and since then, the state government has been administered by a coalition of political parties.
“…the state government since 2018 has been a coalition government, so this does not meet the requirements of Article 6(7).
“This (amendment) makes it easier for the TYT (Yang Dipertua Negeri Sabah) to make discretionary decisions, (on) who gets the support of the majority… and for the TYT to decide (on a situation) of the position of the coalition and the support of the assemblymen when the support (of a party) does not exceed 50 per cent,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said the amendment does not involve appointed assemblymen as they are not voted in by the electorate and do not have a constituency to represent.
The house voted separately for the anti-party hopping law and the removal of Article 6(7).
Dubbed the “anti-power grab”, Article 6(7) was introduced by the Parti Bersatu Sabah government in 1990 to stop losing parties from forming a government using the six nominated assemblymen.
Sabah has a total of 79 assemblymen of which 73 are elected and six nominated.
Earlier, Kadamaian assemblyman Datuk Ewon Benedick objected to the removal of Clause 7 of the Article, saying it should be retained in the State Constitution because it will be a guide for the Head of State pertaining to the appointment of the Chief Minister for Sabah.
He said the rakyat in Sabah heaved a sigh of relief when the Chief Minister tabled the bill preventing a state elected representative from switching parties after an election.
This constitutional amendment will provide space for the formation of a more stable government, he said.
While supporting the amendment, he said it is indeed something that the people of Sabah have been looking forward to for a long time.
“The time has come for us to forget the past and starting today and the next election, this constitutional amendment will be the main basis for the Head of State in the appointment of the Chief Minister,” he said.
After Hajiji explained the rationale, Ewon, who is Upko president, voted in favour of its removal.
Shafie, who is Senallang assemblyman, also contended that the Article was necessary and it should be maintained.
Both Shafie and Moyog assemblyman Datuk Darell Leiking pointed out that any move to delete Article 6(7) will not serve the purpose of stopping party hopping.
“I support the anti-party hopping amendment 100 per cent but I am against any changes to Article 6(7).
“The constitutional amendment to Article 6(7) is a separate matter, I am not supporting it,” said Shafie who is Warisan president.
Nominated assemblyman Datuk Yong Teck Lee said Article 6(7) was no longer relevant and needs to be revamped.
“I am suggesting that Article 6(7) be removed and we create a multi-party committee to relook and replace Article 6(7),” said the former chief minister.
In tabling the anti-party hopping bill earlier, Hajiji said the proposed amendments, among others, were aimed at ensuring political stability and putting an end to the endless political crises which Sabah had been facing.
“These amendments will also send a clear message to every state assemblyman to hold true to the principle of their party to protect the mandate and trust of voters who elected them in elections.
“I am confident that this enactment can also put a stop to the action of assemblymen, whether elected or appointed, to switch parties without solid or reasonable grounds and ensure long-term political stability in the state,” he said.
He said the anti-party hopping law would not have retrospective effect and the implementation of the enactment would begin from the date it comes into force.
Under the enactment, an assemblyman who jumps to another party, regardless of whether that party is in the same coalition or not, will lose his seat.
“Any assemblyman who changes parties or leaves his party to become an independent member of the Legislative Assembly will have to vacate his seat,” he added.
Hajiji said the membership of a Legislative Assembly member refers to his membership in a political party, irrespective of whether that party is part of a coalition of parties or not.
“Apart from that, membership of a Legislative Assembly member also refers to an assemblyman who is not a member of any political party in a coalition but is a direct member of the coalition party,” he said.
He said the membership of an assemblyman in a coalition would not be considered in the application of the anti-hopping law because the main determining principle is membership in a particular political party.
He also said the party symbols under which assemblymen contested in elections would not be considered in the anti-party hopping law.
On exemptions in the anti-party hopping law, Hajiji said assemblymen would not lose their seats if their political parties were dissolved or deregistered, or they were expelled by their parties.
“The exemption also applies to an assemblyman who resigns from his political party upon his election as Speaker. This matter will not cause the Speaker to lose his seat in the Legislative Assembly,” he added.