The fall of the Barisan Nasional government in Malaysia’s 14th General Election (GE-14) precipitated a series of political events that inevitably ushered in an era of political instability in the country.
What started as a momentous event in the country’s political history, turned to despair when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad unexpectedly stepped down as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister in February 2020.
Dr Mahathir’s resignation not only ended the Pakatan Harapan government’s 22 months in power, but also any hope of political reform.
While the power vacuum was quickly filled by an alliance of Malay-based political parties together with their partners in Sarawak, the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government was never on a sure footing right from the start.
The enmity between Umno and Bersatu reached a boiling point when Umno MPs aligned to former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi withdrew their support for Malaysia’s eighth prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, bringing down PN’s 18-month rule of the country.
While the main actors in the current government are inherited from PN, Umno has made a comeback of sorts.
Malaysia’s ninth Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob is Umno’s vice-president, and his elevation to the post of prime minister is a clear signal that Umno is back in the driver’s seat, in so far as power politics is concerned.
All is surely not well. What these series of political manoeuvrings tell us is self-evident – that Malaysia’s political system is badly in need of an overhaul. It seems that the impunity enjoyed by our politicians has no limits.
To clip the wings of cunning and scheming politicians, meaningful reform of the political system should be undertaken by a bi-partisan committee, by first and foremost, rectifying the electoral system.
Since GE-14, we have seen some significant efforts being taken to reform the electoral system, to renew the leadership in the Election Commission, and to improve the way by-elections are conducted.
Yet, it is still too early to determine if these changes are sustainable, without amendments to laws that govern the Election Commission and elections.
Nonetheless, the post GE-14 environment presents hope of better days ahead for freer and fairer elections in Malaysia.
The Election Commission has become more transparent, with regular engagements and consultations with stakeholders, such as political parties, civil society, and international organisations, to improve electoral processes.
The commission’s conduct and public engagement in eight by-elections under the Pakatan Harapan leadership, demonstrated a confidence to act independently and proactively.
Under current laws, the commission is not empowered to prosecute election law offenders, but the ‘new’ Election Commission had lodged numerous police reports when laws were broken.
This was unheard of, previously. They have also taken the initiative to send details of polling stations to voters during by-elections, ahead of polling day.
This had assisted voters greatly and quite likely, resulted in higher voter turnouts on polling day.
Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to strengthen our political system.
In light of what is happening in Melaka at the moment, surely, all right-thinking Malaysians would agree that an anti-party hopping law should be enacted.
While some may argue that such a law may go against the very spirit of freedom imbued in the Constitution, it is also true that freedom of association as guaranteed by Article 10(1)(c) of the Federal Constitution, is not absolute.
No freedom, for that matter, is absolute.
Anti-party hopping law in the terms as contained in the Singapore provision, for example, does not prohibit the elected representative from joining any party of his choice.
Rather, it states the result, or consequence of that action, namely, his seat is deemed to be vacated. The right to associate is there. It is just that once he chooses another party, he vacates his seat.
An anti-party hopping law as proposed by anyone, past and present, would not be unconstitutional.
The essence of any political reform should start with the premise that a code of conduct for politicians must be established, and in line with the constitutional provisions.
In establishing such behavioural constraints, we must place stringent demands that elected officials have to adhere to, failing which, he or she must vacate their seat, and a fresh by-election, be held. This would surely curb the ills associated with excessive politicking.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.