Thirdly, the whole idea that it’s unthinkable and dishonourable to switch parties stems from the idea that the party is always correct, and the representative should tow-the-line. This idea, unfortunately, is ingrained in Malaysian society, that both capable BN and Opposition candidates lose out because of blind party loyalty. People expect representatives to conform with their parties’ principles, for better or worse. People expect the political freedom of representatives to be restricted by their parties.
Such is the chain reaction effect of perpetuating a party-politic dependent democratic system, which is what the APHA does. People need to grow to have faith in their representatives, instead of relying on their favoured parties to control the representatives. For if we embrace the idea that party politics is the order of the day, and the law needs to entrench that order, why not just replace the whole electoral system with a pure party-based elections? No candidates, just vote for the parties. The party will later choose any of its member to fills its rank. Doesn’t matter who he is, since the only concern is not what the person believes, but that the person believes religiously to a particular party’s line. Isn’t such a system more effective in guaranteeing parties won’t lose control of their representatives once voted in?
Lastly, I find the APHA unfairly shifting the blame solely on the representatives. Since we place political parties on the pedestal already, shouldn’t it be the responsibilities of parties to choose their candidates wisely? If parties expect people to vote for their candidates, shouldn’t they be responsible of ensuring that the candidates chosen is a true party loyalist?
The APHA is thus hypocritical in the sense that it perpetuates the idea of party-politics, and yet effectively recognize that political parties are not strong enough to maintain loyalty and cohesiveness amongst its members. It’s an easy way out, isn’t it? Simply choose any Tom, Dick or Harry to run as candidate. No need to check his credentials. Why? Because if he goes rogue, the law will kick him out.
It’s a mockery of democracy. The political parties want the people to vote for them, and will pull out all stops to ensure that such is the case. If political parties are based on strong foundations, they wouldn’t need to rely on an anti-hopping law. Clearly, the law is only needed when they are not - that they are worried of defections, and thus need laws to bail them out. This criticism goes to both the BN and Opposition.
My advice is simple: choose your candidates properly, because it’s your burden. If your candidate goes rogue, face the music – that your party is weak. And if your party is weak, the people have the right to know that. Don’t enact laws merely to cover your own shortcomings. If party defections are frequent, so be it. If it goes to shows that parties are weak, so be it. Let the nature of democracy takes it course. It is highly arrogant to presume a democratic system cannot function without political parties, especially those which are not strong enough to fend for themselves, that we need the law to guard them with hot iron and knives.
In sum, Malaysia should not enact the APHA because (1) party-hopping is not necessarily a betrayal of the people’s trust, and does not substantially threaten ‘public morality’; (2) anti-hopping law does not effectively address the administrative difficulties caused by internal instabilities in political parties, but merely sweep them under the rug; and (3) such a law reinforces the idea that people should vote for political parties, and not individuals – an idea that further increases the influence of already powerful political parties, restricts political freedom of representatives, and essentially breed an unhealthy political climate for people to properly express their democratic will.
We need to look before we leap. And based on what I’ve seen, and hopefully what others will too, an anti-hopping law is not worth taking the leap for in Malaysia.
(This article is contributed by Rapael Kok, law student of Universiti Malaya.)