Sabah Needs 3 In 1 Reform Package To Stop Political Crisis


 Bersih reminds all Malaysians, especially Sabahans, that the political crisis in Sabah will not end with the exodus of the three Warisan assemblypersons to become independent and support Sabah Chief Minister Hajiji Noor.
Bersih opines that the main problem with party hopping in Sabah is how an assemblyperson'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, namely anti-hopping law and fixed-term legislature ordinance, an equitable constituency development fund (CDF) ordinance, and Sabah state assembly reforms.
In the current situation, independent assemblypersons do not have a real role as legislators or policymakers, and they heavily depend on CDF to develop their constituency and address welfare issues, thus winning the support of their voters.
As ministers (at the state or federal level) are given much larger allocations than the government backbenchers, and opposition assemblypersons receive nothing, this becomes a strong incentive for opposition assemblypersons 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 assemblypersons that hopped parties were subsequently re-elected. They are seen as able to bring more allocations and remunerations - namely development and welfare - into their constituency.
Eleven out of 17 assemblypersons who party hopped between May 2018 and July 2020 were returned to their seats during the Sabah state polls 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 Mohammad Mohamarin (N1 Banggi), Chong Chen Bin (N4 Tanjong Kapor) and Norazlinah Arif (N63 Kunak) hopped parties, Warisan lost nine of their 23 seats, (almost 40 percent) that they won in the 2020 state election.
The reason the three of them left was ostensible 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.
Political will
The 3-in-1 reform package needs political will to reconcile competing parties in the Sabah state assembly, which are also partners in the federal government:
1. Anti-hopping law and fixed-term legislature ordinance
i. The anti-hopping law implemented at the federal level needs to be passed at the state level, but cannot be wholly copied. While an assemblyperson who party-hops either to other parties or to become independent will lose his/her seat automatically under the law, a clause should be added to automatically vacate the seat of those who do not support confidence and supply motions (Budget Bill).
ii. 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.
iii. A strict definition of a loss of confidence in the state assembly through the fixed-term legislature ordinance which will require the state assembly 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
In the Sabah 2023 Budget, all government assemblypersons 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 this ordinance, all elected representatives will get funds in a transparent and accountable manner without any partisan discrimination.
3. State legislature reform
People tend to see assemblypersons as an ATM for them to get help simply because opposition assemblypersons and government backbenchers have no impact in shaping the content of bills or government policies.
To change this dynamic, the state assembly needs to establish special select committees, increase the number of meeting days and allocate special time for these assemblypersons so that they can act as a check and balance to the government.
Sabah assemblypersons need to support and push the state government to implement the stated reforms immediately 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. - Mkini
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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