IN the wake of the decision of the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) leadership to accept six former UMNO Members of Parliament into its fold, the question of crossovers in Malaysian politics has come to the fore again. Some of those who support this practice defend it in the name of freedom of association. Those opposed to it argue that it is a betrayal of the voter.
Perhaps the issue itself has to be re-framed. What is at stake is how elected legislators view the mandate they receive from their voters. Since most of the time that mandate is inextricably linked to the party that the Member of Parliament or state Assembly is associated with, it is incumbent upon the legislator if he can no longer defend the party in question to return the mandate to the voters in the constituency that elected him. It is the principle of returning the mandate to the voter that should be adhered to.
In concrete terms this means that a legislator who does not want to continue his association with a certain party should resign from his position. He can re-contest his seat if he so wishes but he must first return the mandate to the people. That is what respect for the people, the voter means in a democracy.
It is not true that this idea of returning the mandate to the voter infringes upon a legislator’s freedom of association. The legislator is free to join any new grouping he is inclined to. He can even re-contest his seat on behalf of his new party.
A number of us had proposed this idea for decades. The powers-that-be showed no interest. Now that a new government is in power we hope that it will introduce a new law entitled, “Returning the Mandate to the Voter” that will not only empower the voter but also enhance democratic governance.
One hopes that Pakatan Harapan (PH) legislators and members will persuade their leaders to formulate such a law rather than continue to criticize them mercilessly for admitting former UMNO MPs into Bersatu. The proposed law should be an essential element in the array of new legislation that the government intends to present to Parliament in the course of the year.
PH members should realize that unfettered attacks on PH leader and Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on this issue could have dire consequences. Not only will his credibility be undermined; he may just choose to abandon the PH ship. Since he is the glue that holds the four party coalition together and is the indispensable force that sustains the PH government at this stage, his departure in this manner can only spell disaster for the nation.
Of course, for those of us who have struggled and sacrificed for genuine meaningful change for so long --- especially through civil society --- the 9 month old PH government has been a disappointment on certain scores. Nonetheless, it is trying to overcome monumental challenges generated by the kleptocratic tendencies of the previous regime and to strengthen public accountability. Since it is still early days, the PH government deserves to be given a chance to prove its worth.
Seen from this perspective, the admission of former UMNO MPs may not be just about the power of an individual or his party. Dr Mahathir is perhaps acutely conscious of the fact that based upon the 2018 General Election, PH has the support of only about 27% of the Malay electorate while 60% of the population is Malay and almost two-thirds of all legislators at Federal and State level are Malay and Muslim. He knows what this disjuncture implies for the government’s ability to govern effectively and to introduce reforms. Increasing the PH’s parliamentary strength may be part of the endeavor to close the gap.
But ethics tells us that it is not the solution. The PH government has to gain the wholehearted support of the majority of Malays and Bumiputras through the sincere implementation of policies that bring direct benefits to the B40 and M40 segments of society. At the same time, Malays, Bumiputras and all Malaysians should feel secure in the new emerging political configuration which is multi-ethnic with a Malay-Muslim Bumiputra core that is reflective of the evolution of contemporary Malaysia. Creating that feeling of security through tangible action should be the government’s priority in 2019.
* Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.