Thursday, May 14, 2009

What shall we do with a floor crossing YB?

While the whole nation is occupied with the goings on in Perak, my own thoughts are drawn, perhaps out of disgust & disillusionment, to the events that eventually led to the mess that we have been left with there. In my view, the direct attributable cause is that elected representatives chose to switch (or leave) their party allegiances. What can we do to prevent a mess like Perak's from recurring in the future?

In our country, switching one's party allegiance is something that is generally viewed negatively. We pejoratively call it "party hopping" and those who indulge in it are called "frogs" or "katak". However, it is not always so in other places where a parliamentary system is practiced.

In the UK and other countries where the Westminster system is practiced, the term used is a more neutral "crossing the floor". It is something that has happened quite frequently in the UK , Australia and Canada, and not viewed so negatively. In fact Winston Churchill, the great British wartime leader, crossed the floor not once but twice!

So is switching party allegiance a bad thing or not? Should it be frowned upon or even banned (as it is in South Africa)? My take on this issue is this: crossing the floor is a lot like sex. When it's done out of true love for the other person, it is something wonderful & even spiritual. On the other hand, if done out of greed for money, fame or power, it becomes debased & immoral, and those who indulge in it are called prostitutes.

Similarly, an elected representative may cross the floor because he agrees with & respects the policies & positions of another party (or finds that of his own party unconscionable). Alternatively, he or she may just do so for more selfish reasons, (such as to avoid selective prosecution, or to get a new car).

This presents us with a problem: how can we determine fairly a YB's motives when he or she crosses the floor? We may have our suspicions, and if it can be proven that a YB was bribed to cross the floor, certainly he or she must be charged & punished under the various laws on corruption. However, corruption charges are not easily proven, and we cannot presume that all who cross the floor are guilty. It would not do, since we need to respect the human rights of all involved.

Whose rights are involved? Firstly. let's look at the rights of the elected representatives. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we can see that easc of us has the right to freedom of thought and conscience (article 18), the right to freedom of opinion and expression (article 19) as well as the right to freedom of association (article 20). Therefore, if we were to ban or criminalize crossing the floor, these YB's rights would be denied.

Our YBs do not lose these rights the moment they join a political party. We must remember that elected representatives do not serve in the legislative assemblies as employees of the political parties they were elected under, and there is no contractual obligation that they must vote according to the party line. Although their party may have had a manifesto that is presented to voters before elections, not all decisions that come before parliament may have been covered in the manifesto, and parties have been known to change their positions after elections. Democracy is not served by having "zombie" YBs who rubber stamp anything their parties want.

Let's look at another set of rights. Article 21 of the UDHR states that everyone "has the right to take part in the government of their country, directly or through freely chosen representatives". These YB are the means by which we the Rakyat take part in the government of Malaysia. What do we require from them? We require that they participate fully in the parliamentary process, ask the tough questions and vote in our best interests. Since they represent us, if they act in a way that does not reflect our interests, our rights have been denied.

So we have 2 sets of rights here that seem to clash. How will we solve this?

One way might be to introduce ideas from direct or deliberative democracy. One that I believe could help solve messes like Perak is this: the recall election. This is a procedure by which voters can remove elected officials. So, in the case of a YB who crossed the floor, we could require that an automatic recall election be held. He or she would have ample opportunity to share with the Rakyat his reasons for switching, and how his actions were in their best interests. The rakyat would then vote to indicate if they still wanted him as their representative. The YB would have every right to act according to his conscience, and the Rakyat's right to representation that serves their interests would not be sacrificed.

So, what do we do with a floor crossing YB? Make him go back to the rakyat for his mandate to be confirmed. What do you think? Could this work for Malaysia?


  1. I agree with your contention that not all hops are bad.The important thing is that before you hop get the blessings of those who voted you into office.
    For example :

    1) Double hopper Bota Asemlyman Nasaruddin,
    when he hopped to PKR he gave his reasons in detail and even remarked the constituents were so happy he did not see so many people come to welcome him even during the general elections.
    Do they sanction him hopping back to BN ? the results of the next election will confirm that.

    2) YB Arumugam of bukit selambau, he won on an independent ticket but later crossed to PKR without much protest and fanfare, the result of the last by election where PKR's manikumar won indicate the peoples sentiments.

    3) Hee Yit Foong- when she hopped out of DAP and became an independent friendly to BN, the people of Jelapang vilified her so much that she dare not even visit her constituency.

    My opinions on the technicalities of party hopping are in the following 2 articles -

    Source :
    Anti-hop law and Clause 48(6) incompatible
    Vijay Kumar Murugavell | Oct 6, 08 5:43pm
    Dear YB Karpal Singh,

    It is with a heavy heart that I read your stand terming crossovers as unethical and immoral.

    Two decades ago Shahrir Samad resigned and re-contested as an independent in Johor Baru.

    Shahrir did just what you are proposing, he did not hop, but got a fresh mandate from the constituents.

    This led to the amendment of the federal constitution in 1990, specifically clause 48(6) which stipulates that if you resign you are not allowed to contest for the next five years, so even if one wants to go back to the people for a mandate one has to wait five years.

    Having enacted this amendment more due to ‘loss of face’ than for reasons of expediency, the BN with impunity engineered defections in PBS to take control of the Sabah government.

    They only take the moral high ground now, when the tables are turned.

    So to legislate an anti-hop law, without repealing clause 48(6) is patently unfair, as it does not afford a parliamentarian any recourse in event the will of the people is that he changes his political affiliation.

    A five-year mandate is not a carte blanche to do as one pleases, maintaining both the anti-hop law as well as clause 48(6) in its current form as it accords no remedy in cases where this mandate is abused.

    If BN's actions of invoking the ISA to quell political dissent, dangerously playing up racist sentiments, sabotaging opposition-ruled states and grossly mismanaging the economy is not abuse, I don't know what is.

    Surely as a veteran parliamentarian, respected constitutional lawyer (my late father used to term you as the best constitutional lawyer the country has ever had) and influential politician - you can appreciate this.

    Besides, Anwar Ibrahim has promised that after the takeover, and after the Election Commission makes changes to the electoral rolls and constituencies and ridding us of the dreaded ISA and stabilising the economy, he will call for fresh polls within a year.

    As it is, it is hard enough on Anwar, what with Hadi Awang of PAS declaring that he will not support a government that does not comprise of a Muslim majority in term of total seats.

    I will write Tuan Guru Hadi an open letter too, after Hari Raya and put forward an appeal on behalf of like-minded citizens.

    Meanwhile I wish you good health and happiness


    Source :
    Saturday, February 14, 2009
    Please repeal article 48(6) before supporting an anti-hop law.
    Dear YB Gobind,

    With reference to your opinion


    Some may consider party hopping morally wrong though allowed by law,I respect DAP's stand on the matter, however notwithstanding the freedom of association argument it all lies with the constituents wishes ,"hopping" can elicit very different responses from constituents, as the following 2 examples show :-

    1) Nasaruddin- when he hopped from UMNO to PKR, he did so after rational thought which he detailed in suara keadilan newsletter, In the full page explanation he even gave rationales like studying PKR party constitution, he was elated when he visited his constituents as they came out in droves cheering him. He remarked that he had never seen such a crowd even in the general elections, when he did a "reverse hop" within 10 days , his face was somber as he read from a script of a few lines on TV3 giving his reasons, he looked like PI Bala after the 2nd statutory declaration, one cannot help but feel he did it under duress.

    2) Hee Yit Foong - she was missing when LGE had issued the ultimatum for DAP assemblymen not to stay incommunicado for more than 24 hours, she inferred that she was either sick , visiting her mother or both, she declared that she was not hopping and even demanded an apology from Lim Kit Siang, to say that her constituents were not happy would be too mild, she dares not even visit her constituency after her service center was pelted with stones.

    I had written an open letter to your father the Honorable DAP Chairman Karpal Singh last year which was published in malaysiakini offering a different rationale.

    Anti-hop law and Clause 48(6) incompatible Vijay Kumar Murugavell Oct 6, 08 5:43pm

    If DAP wants to support an anti hop law by all means do so , but please have clause 48(6) repealed first otherwise it offers no contingencies for the next 5 years if a mandate is abused.Having an anti hop law after this clause is repealed will FORCE those who change affiliations to go back to the constituents for a referendum.BN is not likely to want this for the obvious reason that they are likely to lose out as sentiments are against them.

    Now that BN has set a precedent by actually changing a state government after the 916 deadline, BN is worried that they will get no sympathy if Anwar now takes over the Federal Government via crossovers of East Malaysian lawmakers, Najib has been playing Santa Claus recently doling out goodies in Sarawak.

    Speculation is also rife that 7 to 8 lawmakers in Selangor are being courted by BN, this of course is not enough to topple the Selangor state government but if successful will give BN two thirds majority in Parliament, which means they can pass an anti hop bill in parliament without opposition support on their own terms without repealing clause 48(6).It will be dreadful to be ruled by a government that does not enjoy the popular vote by a decisive margin but yet controls two thirds of parliament ,passing controversial bills in self interest and gerrymandering constituencies in their own favor in preparation for the next elections.

    Best Regards

    Vijay Kumar Murugavell

  2. Dear Malaysian Heart

    People change all the time but for an elected people representative to change side, you have to go back to your people.

    So, i am with you 100% with your workable proposals.

    Thank you for dropping by and penning your thoughts in my humble blog.

    May God bless you always. Cheerio!


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