Party hoppers, where is your conscience? Where is your obligation?

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By P. Ramakrishnan

Ramakrishnan says that we must never tolerate or forgive all those party hoppers who have turned our politics topsy-turvy.  Party hopping is a curse to the democratic electoral process.

For decades, the political system of Malaysia has been plagued by party hopping by most of our unscrupulous politicians out to make hay while the sun shines!

Party hopping has become a political culture tolerated and encouraged to preserve the interests of certain dishonest politicians for whom scruples mean nothing. It doesn’t disturb their conscience whentheir actions mock the democratic process.

Sadly, at times the laws of the land assist the survival of these dishonourable political scums. The so-called individual freedom of choice of a selfish politician is upheld to the detriment of the larger concerns of the entire community. In the name of freedom of association, they are allowed to be scoundrels!

We witnessed this in Sabah in the court of the mid-1990s. The same decision prevailed in the court case involving Kelantan. It was no exception in Perak. In all these instances, the pre-signed letters of resignation – submitted by the party to enforce the resignation of the turncoats – were unfortunately held to be illegal as it supposedly infringed on the freedom of association of a person.

However, a pre-signed letter of resignation submitted to the party by nominated candidates standing for election was meant to deter an Assemblyman or a Member of Parliament from switching parties after being elected. It was meant to ensure that an elected member remains with the party that fielded him to contest on behalf of the party.

Such an arrangement was seen as a necessary, even a commendable precaution to protect the interest of the party and keep faith with the electorate who expressed their confidence in electing him on that party’s ticket.

But this had not worked in favour of the party. When such pre-signed letters were submitted to the Speaker to declare vacant the seats of those who had jumped ship, regrettably these letters could not be enforced. Courts have ruled that such letters were not lawful as it infringed on the right of association of a person. As such, the letters were nullified.

Such court rulings, although legally correct, were disappointing and frustrating to voters in a constitutional democracy where public opinion has an abiding role.. While the courts safeguarded the right of the individual, how could they overlook the rights of an entire community that elected him in good faith in supporting the party’s manifesto.

Could the selfish interest of a single miserable character out-weigh the entire interest of the electorate that voted him in? Doesn’t their electoral support amount to something? How about their majority opinion? Shouldn’t there be a consequence for betraying the electoral trust placed in him? Could the court ignore public opinion and political morality as factors in electoral cases?

When a candidate makes an open and public pledge to remain faithful to the party that fielded him for an election, shouldn’t that political pledge carry a moral obligation to honour it? Shouldn’t a new law prohibiting party-hopping allow our court to enforce morality in politics?

When a candidate puts down his signature on the letter of resignation, isn’t he undertaking a serious responsibility to remain true. What is the purpose of a pledge when at some point in time in the future he blatantly refuses to honour it without any consequence to him?

Based on the open pledge of loyalty to the party, a candidate receives the support of the voters. The votes cast were for the party and not for the individual. He has a moral obligation not to betray the party and the trust of the voters.

Shouldn’t there be a consequence when he becomes a renegade? He can’t get off entirely scot-free! He had clearly and defiantly lied and cheated the voters who trusted him. By switching parties, he had nullified their votes and, worse, changed the political landscape. Doesn’t that deserve to be treated as an offence for reneging on his promise and pledge?

As things stand, it would appear that the law is prepared to tolerate a betrayal! Shouldn’t the law be interested in integrity and honour?

The courts should give some weightage to the broken promise when he refuses to be bound by his solemn pledge. Can he let down tens of thousands of voters who elected him in good faith and not be held responsible for a wilful act of extreme treachery? Shouldn’t the hypocrite be punished for totally ignoring his obligations to his voters for the trust placed in him?

From another angle, I would argue that there exists a contractual obligation between him and the party when an open pledge is made and his signature is added to his letter of resignation. His open pledge and his letter of resignation bind him irrevocably to his voters as well. This contractual obligation demands that he stays faithfully with the party and truly respects the decision of the voters.

When he refuses to be loyal to the voters, he must be made to pay a price. That price would mean he forfeits his claim to the seat. The seat should fall vacant immediately and the voters must be given another chance to reaffirm their choice of party to represent them.

It’s a great pity that all the reforms promised by Pakatan Harapan – one of which was addressing the party hopping issue – could not be implemented. The reason for this was Mahathir. He didn’t want to fix it because he wanted to recruit party hoppers. To strengthen his hand and party, he actively recruited those from Umno who tolerated Najib’s thieving, kleptocratic ways. He managed to attract a dozen or so party hoppers from Umno, the party that Mahathir had roundly condemned.

Pakatan Harapan must address this issue seriously and pledge to outlaw party hopping when it comes to power after GE 15. Malaysians would like to be assured that this issue will be fixed during the first 100 days of governance.

Party hopping is a curse to the democratic electoral process. It must be put to rest permanently once and for all in order to bring back dignity to parliamentary democracy.

We must never tolerate or forgive all those party hoppers who have turned our politics topsy-turvy. There should be no room for hypocrites. All these hypocrites have displayed the characteristics that was condemned by the Holy Prophet:

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Among the signs of a hypocrite are three, even if he fasts and prays and claims to be a Muslim: when he speaks he lies, when he gives a promise he breaks it, and when he is trusted he betrays.”

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

This article was published on 8 March in this link.

P Ramakrishnan is the long-serving former president of Aliran who served three and a half decades on its executive committee, and has been with Aliran since its inception in 1977. Now an ordinary Aliran member, he continues to highlight issues of public interest to a larger audience.

Rebuilding Malaysia

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