Bersatu MPs in Sabah quit party, raising question of by-elections

Bersatu Sabah chairman Hajiji Noor is confident that this decision will be good for political unity and stability in Sabah. PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Several Members of Parliament from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) in Sabah have quit the party led by former Malaysian premier Muhyiddin Yassin.

Sabah Bersatu currently has four MPs, who contested under the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) ticket. 

Their decision raised the question if this would trigger by-elections in their constituencies, under Malaysia’s anti-hopping law (AHL) that took effect on Oct 5.

Bersatu Sabah chairman Hajiji Noor, who is also the chief minister of the East Malaysian state, said in a statement on Saturday that party members have made the “unanimous decision” to leave Bersatu after “having considered Malaysia’s current political landscape, particularly that of Sabah”.

Datuk Seri Hajiji added: “We thank the President of Bersatu and Chairman of Perikatan Nasional (PN), Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for his leadership during our tenure as Bersatu members.” But he said that the status quo is “no longer tenable”.

“This is because at the federal level, Bersatu is in the opposition whilst GRS has pledged support to the unity government led by Anwar (Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim),” said Mr Hajiji. “With this decision, we will now use GRS to voice out Sabah’s interests and that of the Bornean states in Malaysia. We are confident that this decision will be good for political unity and stability in Sabah,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

Bersatu Sabah is part of the GRS bloc that also houses Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Sabah Star, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and United Sabah National Organisation. GRS, which is a member of PM Anwar’s unity government, has a total of six MPs – four from Bersatu, one from PBS and another from Sabah Star.

Another Bersatu MP in Sabah, Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee, had contested the Nov 19 general election under the Perikatan Nasional (PN) flag. Dr Ronald, who is a Bersatu vice-president, has not announced that he would quit the party.

Analysts gave different views on whether the anti-hopping law is triggered with the four Bersatu Sabah MPs believed to be leaving the party to become direct members of the GRS coalition.

The nation’s anti-hopping law was introduced to prevent defections by prohibiting MPs from switching parties, but does not stop political parties from collaborating with others to gain majority support.

Constitutional senior lawyer Rajan Navaratnam said that under the new Article 49A of the Federal Constitution, if an MP resigns or ceases to be a member of a particular political party, the MP stands to lose his parliamentary seat.

“Since these individuals have quit Bersatu Sabah, any change of party from their original party will trigger Article 49A. Anti-hopping law does not apply to Sabah state level only, but it also applies to all MPs,” said Datuk Seri Rajan.

He also questioned how the Bersatu leaders who have announced they were quitting the party could become direct members of the GRS bloc, which is officially registered as a coalition and not as a political party.

“Essentially, it is important to note that political party members to GRS are respective parties, and not individuals of each party.

“However, checks must be done by the Registry of Societies Malaysia to see if the individuals are members of the GRS party. But I doubt this because individuals who are already members of their respective individual parties such as Bersatu, Sabah Star cannot be members of another political party,” added Mr Rajan.

On the flip side, Bersatu Sabah has double coalition memberships in GRS and PN, said Sunway University’s political scientist Wong Chin Huat. He said as some of the Bersatu MPs won under the GRS ticket, the anti-hopping law does not apply to them as long as they stay within the GRS coalition.

Prof Wong said the defections of Bersatu Sabah members along with several MPs added to other woes afflicting Mr Muhyiddin-led PN, which is now a federal opposition coalition.

Sabah Star has also recently quit PN, and he expects SAPP to also eventually leave the opposition coalition.

“Sabahan parties do not like to be associated with national parties if there is a choice. SAPP would not be different from Sabah Star which has left early... the PN alliance will become insignificant in Sabah,” he said.

The PN alliance currently comprises Bersatu, Parti Islam SeMalaysia, Gerakan and SAPP. The latter two parties didn’t win any seats in the November general election.

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