Malaysia’s anti-party hopping law delayed after amendment vote deferred

Malaysia's government tabled an amendment to Article 10 of the federal Constitution in order to enable a future anti-hopping law. PHOTO: PARLIMEN MALAYSIA/FACEBOOK

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s anti-party hopping law suffered another setback on Monday (April 11) after lawmakers deferred their vote on a constitutional amendment that would have enabled the law to be enacted. 

MPs instead decided to refer the amendment to a Parliamentary Select Committee for further deliberation, after concerns arose from both sides of the aisle over its broad wording.

The amendment to Article 10 of the Constitution to restrict elected representatives’ freedom of association is needed to pave the way for a law to stem party defections, a major cause of the country’s political instability in the last two years.

A total of 39 MPs have switched their political loyalties since the 2018 general election, with three prime ministers being appointed in a single parliamentary term, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar earlier this month.

Parliament had sat in a special session on Monday to vote on the constitutional amendment Bill. Another special sitting is now expected to be called in May to consider and pass the revised amendments.

MPs from both the opposition and government benches on Monday expressed concerns with the amendment Bill, which introduces a new clause in the Constitution to restrict freedom of association for elected representatives. 

They say the current wording of the amendment could restrict lawmakers’ freedom of association beyond party-hopping.

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim - whose Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition has a confidence and supply agreement with the government - said that the wording in the amendment was too broad and wanted the restriction to be limited to political defections. 

The Straits Times has learnt that PH has sent its alternative version of the amendment to the government.

“We want to specify defections. We expect the government to counter our draft but as long as defections are clearly defined, we can consider it,” a lawmaker involved with the negotiations told ST on condition of anonymity as these talks are confidential.

Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is part of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government, voiced similar reservations.

“We do not want this to be used to restrict freedom of association of MPs in realms outside of their political party membership,” he said in Parliament on Monday. 

A two-thirds majority of the House is needed to pass the constitutional amendment. Datuk Seri Ismail - who only has a five-seat majority in Parliament - will have to rely on the opposition bloc’s votes under their support pact to get the Bill passed. 

The opposition has said that it will withdraw its support if the government fails to introduce the anti-party hopping legislation, a key condition of the pact between them.

The pact - which expires at the end of July - has so far helped Mr Ismail stay in power, by staving off pressure from his own party Umno to dissolve Parliament and call for snap elections. 

Monday’s vote deferment further delays the passage of the anti-party hopping Bill, which was originally supposed to be tabled in March and was itself slowed by a lack of consensus from all the major parties. 

The new law is expected to require elected representatives who leave their parties to stand again for their seats in a recall election. Currently politicians can switch allegiances without losing their seats.

Mr Wan Junaidi indicated in Parliament on Monday that the anti-party hopping Bill would be introduced latest by July, when Parliament resumes. 

  • Additional reporting by Shannon Teoh

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