The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) reminds all Malaysians, especially Sabahans, that the political crisis in Sabah will not end with the exodus of the three Warisan Ahli Dewan Undangan Negeri (ADUN) to become Independent ADUNs (state assemblypersons) and support the Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Hajiji Haji Noor.
BERSIH opines that the main problem with party hopping in Sabah is how an ADUN’s function is seen as a ‘human ATM’ and this can only be resolved in the long-term by a 3-in-1 reform package: (1) Anti-Hopping Law and Fixed Term Legislature Ordinance, (2) an Equitable Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Ordinance, and (3) Sabah DUN reforms.
In the current situation, independent ADUN do not have a real role as legislator or policy maker, and they heavily depend on CDF to develop their constituency and address welfare issues, thus winning the support of their voters.
As ministers (at state or federal level) are given much larger allocations than the government backbenchers, and opposition ADUNs receive nothing, this becomes a strong incentive for opposition ADUNs to hop to the government side. Not only that, government backbenchers or even ministers may try to overthrow his/her government with the hope of being appointed as a minister with significantly more resources.
As witnessed in the past, many Sabahan ADUN that hopped parties were subsequently re-elected. They are seen as able to bring more allocations and renumerations – namely development and welfare – into their constituency. Eleven out of 17 ADUN that party hopped between May 2018 and July 2020 were returned to their seat during the Sabah State Election (PRN) in September 2020.
It is clear that the federal legislation of the Anti-Hopping Law at the state level is insufficient to deter or avoid party or coalition hopping.
When YB Mohammad Mohamarin (N1 Banggi), YB Chong Chen Bin (N4 Tanjong Kapor) and YB Norazlinah Arif (N63 Kunak) hopped parties, Warisan lost nine of their 23 seats, (almost 40%) that they won in the 2020 state election. The reason the three of them left was ostensibly to provide better services to their constituents and put a stop to political polemics threatening the state government’s stability.
This hopping is not surprising, coming on the heels of the unsuccessful attempt by Warisan and UMNO to overthrow the Hajiji-led government. They were driven by the desire to seize government positions and more resources.
BERSIH is emphatic that institutional reforms in Sabah should not be delayed any longer and must be implemented immediately to cease the political turmoil. The 3-in-1 reform package needs political will to reconcile competing parties in the Sabah DUN, who are also partners in the federal-level Unity Government:
- Legislation of the Anti-Hopping Law and Fixed-term Legislature Ordinance (FLTO)
- The anti-hopping law implemented at the Federal level needs to be passed at the state level, but cannot be wholly copied. While ADUN that party-hop either to other parties or to become independents will lose his/her seat automatically under the law, a clause should be added to automatically vacate the seat of ADUN who do not support confidence and supply motions (Budget Bill).
- A recall procedure needs to be included in the anti-hopping law to cover issues of dismissal besides a lack of support for confidence and supply motions, coalition hopping and other reasonable ground for voters to recall their representatives and trigger a by-election.
- A strict definition of a loss of confidence in the DUN through the Fixed-Term Legislature Ordinance which will require the DUN to complete its term unless the government loses confidence or if the application for early dissolution is approved by two-thirds of the House.
2. Equitable Constituency Development Fund Ordinance to give equitable allocations
In the Sabah 2023 Budget, all government ADUN will receive RM3 million a year while the Opposition gets nothing. This undemocratic practice is the biggest incentive for party hopping and must be stopped. With the Equitable CDF Ordinance, all elected representatives will get CDF in a transparent and accountable manner without any partisan discrimination.
- State legislature reform to empower ADUN
People tend to see assemblymen as ATM machines for them to get help simply because opposition ADUN and government backbenchers have no impact in shaping the content of bills or government policies. To change this dynamic, the DUN needs to establish special select committees, increase the number of DUN meeting days and allocate special time for these ADUN so that they can act as check and balance to the Government.
Sabah ADUN need to support and push the Sabah Government to immediately implement the stated reforms so that its’ democratic institutions can run more professionally and be people-centric instead of being a stage for power struggles between the Government and the Opposition.
The Steering Committee of BERSIH