DAP national legal bureau chief Ramkarpal Singh said Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s stance that party-hopping by politicians is acceptable if done for good reasons is “regrettable”.
He said the premier’s view should not be condoned as it was “unprincipled” and is detrimental to good governance.
“No doubt, there have been several court rulings declaring that party-hopping is not illegal as politicians have constitutional freedom to associate with any party they wish.
“But it must always be remembered that all elected representatives are elected by the people, mostly on account of the party they stand for and not as individuals,” Ramkarpal said.
“If an elected representative becomes disillusioned with his/her party’s stand to the point that he/she no longer wishes to be a part of that party, the morally right thing to do is to resign and explain his/her position to the people in a by-election,” he added.
“Ultimately, it is for the people to decide if that particular representative deserves to be re-elected.”
The Bukit Gelugor MP questioned numerous instances of party-hopping that occurred after GE14 last year, when Pakatan Harapan displaced BN to form the new government.
He added: “The reality of the position is that party-hopping in this country occurs due to political expediency and has nothing to do with these party-hoppers’ disillusionment with the direction of their former parties.
“Instead of encouraging party-hopping, the government should have the political will to introduce the necessary amendments to the Constitution to outlaw the same and introduce specific anti-defection legislation as a result.”
Ramkarpal noted that although some states had introduced anti-hopping laws, such as Penang in 2012, such a state law would be subject to the Federal Constitution and was unconstitutional.
“Party-hopping is as unprincipled as it can get and every effort should be taken to discourage such a practice in the name of good governance,” he said.
During the Lawasia Constitutional and Rule of Law Conference 2019 yesterday, Mahathir had dismissed the need for such a law.
He explained this was because politicians should be allowed to leave a bad government.
“When faced with a government that is really bad, and you cannot hop, do you still have to stay with the government? I think that is not going to contribute to good governance.
“So, I think you should be able to hop and change party. And you do that for good reasons, not because you see that if you are close to the new PM (prime minister), you might become a minister. If that is the reason why you are hopping, that is bad,” Mahathir reportedly said.
This was later countered by Singapore academic Kevin Tan who said Malaysia’ political history necessitated an anti-defection law.
Tan cited the mass exodus of parliamentarians from BN to Harapan after the general elections.
De facto law minister Liew Vui Keong said last year that a law to deter lawmakers from defecting is not in the works in part because Article 10(1)(c) of the constitution guarantees freedom of association.
Liew also cited the 1992 case in which the apex court ruled in favour of then-Kelantan assemblyperson Nordin Salleh – who jumped from PAS to BN – as it found the state constitution baring party-hopping be unconstitutional.
However, Article 2(c) and 3 of the constitution permits for restrictions to Article 10(1)(c) in the interests of security, public order, morality, labour and education.
Related report: Oct 4, Dr M: Party-Hopping Fine if You Have Good Reasons