KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 — The parliamentary whips of all parties have agreed “in principle” to push for a legal amendment that could end the political defection menace, Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said.
The former facto law minister, who leads the bipartisan parliamentary caucus on electoral reforms, told Malay Mail this agreement was reached in informal meetings to deliberate on the matter.
Mohamed Nazri, a trained lawyer, said that the amendment to the Election Commission Act 1957 to enforce a party-list system, in which voters would elect parties rather than individuals, only needed a simple majority to be approved.
He said this was unlike the two-thirds majority necessary for amendments to the Federal Constitution.
“Yes, we had an informal meeting of whips of the parties. Basically we have all agreed in principle. So that’s why now, we are going into programmes, going into engagements. Engagement will be with the Election Commission (EC) on October 6.
“When it’s going to happen is secondary. Most important, the political will to push for it, and when I talk about the Act, it’s about (getting) a simple majority. We don’t need to have a two-thirds majority — which is needed if we want to amend the Constitution, but if we want to amend an Act, it just needs a simple majority.
“And a simple majority doesn’t mean 112, it means a simple majority on the day that we table and debate the Act with those who are present. That’s all. It can be 50 people, 60 people,” the former tourism, arts and culture minister said.
Known for his blunt and outspoken demeanour, he said both sides of the political divide shared the blame for party hopping, which he insisted he was determined to end permanently through the proposed reforms.
Mohamed Nazri noted that the Sabah election now was taking place after former chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman tried to seize control of the state government via defections.
The former minister acknowledged that the takeover attempt involved lawmakers from his own party, Umno.
“Yes, that’s more the reason why I’m determined to push through this anti-hopping law. You know soon after I spoke in Parliament, this thing (Sabah defections) happened. It’s terrible. It’s really disgraceful.
“So that’s why I think this has to be stopped for once and for all, and you know, I believe that all MPs will support this in Parliament because it would seem like a name-and-shame move if they don’t. If you don’t support, it means you are happy with these hopping. So it does not matter when. I think what’s more important is that we must push for this. That’s all.
In July, the veteran Umno lawmaker proposed an amendment to the Election Commission Act for political parties to directly contest for seats instead of individuals.
During his debate of the Royal Address, he pointed out that this could easily be the solution against political party hopping and could stop political corruption at the same time.
He said it would not matter if a lawmaker defected from his party as the seat of the constituency would remain with the latter, which could then appoint a replacement.
Mohamed Nazri stressed that his proposal would end political horse tradings and limit corruption.
What about independent candidates?
Mohamed Nazri conceded that his proposal would not cover independent lawmakers, but said that was the risk voters must take in the unlikely event they opted to back one.
He further noted that independent lawmakers were not beholden to support any party even now.
“Yes. You have to live with him for five years. It’s your choice.
“Anyway, when you want to form a government, you vote for the party. How can you vote for individuals? You can’t. The party forms the government. Not an individual,” he added.
When asked if he would support a constitutional amendment to exclude politicians from the right to freedom of association to prevent party hopping, he disagreed.
He said liberty must apply equally to all in order for it to be meaningful.
Mohamed Nazri also said introducing such a curb via a constitutional amendment would be arduous as there must be significant bipartisanship to achieve two-thirds support in Parliament.
“I will not venture into defining what is freedom of association because it will involve amendments to the Constitution which is more difficult. So for the moment, I don’t want to amend the Constitution. It is more difficult if I take that route.
“It’s not about doubting (the support from MPs), it’s not necessary because human rights need not be defined just to suit politicians. Human rights should be human rights for all, so we do not have to define rights in terms of MPs, what is their (human) rights,” he said, pointing to the precedent set in the case of Dewan Undangan Negeri Kelantan & Anor v Nordin Bin Salleh & Anor.
“When one contests following your party’s symbol, even if that person jumps, then their party will nominate a different person. There will be stability, there will be no by-elections. That’s what we want,” he added.
In the case cited to justify party-hopping, the Supreme Court (now the Federal Court) found that a provision of the Kelantan Constitution was in contradiction with Article 10(1)(c) of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of association.
The Kelantan Constitution provides for the seat of a member of the State Legislative Assembly to be vacated if he/she ceases to be a member of a particular political party, but the court found that one’s freedom of association includes their right to dissociate, and rules that it would be unconstitutional for the state to impose a sanction on practicing such rights.