Political financing law urgently needed to prevent fickle MP loyalties

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Four MPs from Bersatu, a constituent party of the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, have declared their support for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

The MPs are Suhaili Abdul Rahman (Labuan), Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid (Kuala Kangsar), Mohd Azizi Abu Naim (Gua Musang), and Zahari Kechik (Jeli).

The reason cited for the switching of party loyalties was the guarantee of receiving federal funds for the welfare of their constituencies.

The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) raises the alarm on multiple fronts: that this represents the persistence of money politics within Malaysia’s electoral democracy; the failings of existing anti-‘party hopping’ provisions; and the ongoing erosion of the democratic process.

The guarantee of receiving federal funding for their constituencies as the primary reason for shifting coalitions brings to the forefront the issue of money being used as a political tool.

Currently, the federal government has complete autonomy to make arbitrary choices over which constituencies receive funding or not at all. As a result, the coalition leaders of successive ruling governments will be able to solidify their position on the promises of constituency funding alone.

This could result in MPs pre-emptively forming political alliances with the ruling coalition post-election with the anticipation that they will receive federal funding for their constituency.

The larger issue at hand, however, is that MPs are meant to be federal-level legislators, meeting with constituents and raising their concerns at the parliamentary level.

MPs are not lobbyists for constituency funds and should not be forming alliances on this basis to begin with. Normalising this practice would open the path to this money possibly being channelled through political parties instead.

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Political financing as a basis for corruption is already endemic, and the avenues for it should not be made even wider through the overreach into constituency fund-seeking by MPs.

A political financing act removes the incentive of MPs to seek funds through underhanded means or relying on “constituency funds”, which should not fall within their mandate to begin with.

The defection of the Bersatu MPs also reveals the ineffectiveness of the anti-party hopping provisions under Article 49A of the Federal Constitution.

Despite the defections having the effect of party hopping, the MPs are not caught under the anti-party hopping provisions as the law only compels the vacating of a seat by an MP in the case of their resignation from the party.

All four members who have declared this switch have maintained that they remain Bersatu members, and although they will face disciplinary action, their expulsion from the party would still allow them to maintain their seats.

This odd feature essentially opens the loophole for new and volatile political alliances to be forged at any given moment. This is especially dangerous given the high degree of infiltration of money politics within our political systems.

At the surface level, it is clear to see how this switching of party loyalties is an usurpation of democratic principles. While it is true that these candidates were voted in by their constituents, they were also likely to be voted in based on their party or coalition affiliation. If politicians are allowed to change allegiances and parties at the drop of the hat, it renders the electoral system defunct.

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It is reminiscent of the infamous “Sheraton move” of early 2020 and continues the precedent that the people’s mandate to decide representation in Parliament has become an increasingly meaningless process.

The hung parliament resulting from Malaysia’s last general election and the subsequent formation of the “unity government” has also shed light on how citizens’ attitude towards our political landscape has shifted. Our anti-party hopping laws need to account for the need to form stable governments.

In addition to this, however, money politics also affects voters’ decision-making, in that desirable political choices are made based on which parties and candidates are able to secure constituency funding as opposed to how the funding itself can be directed and expended in ways that can actually benefit the communities they belong to.

Elections then become merely about where money flows and which MPs are most likely to secure funds through forging loyalties.

If money continues to determine the course of Malaysian politics, governance will continue to be seen as a means of resource accumulation and control as opposed to actually protecting the welfare of the people.

While the upkeep of welfare is undeniably connected to MPs having more funding at their disposal, the question of why some constituencies deserve funding while others do not remains unanswered. The political affiliations of MPs is not a justifiable reason for denying funding.

Hence, C4 Center urges the following:

  • The government needs to enact a political financing act that removes the incentive of MPs to seek funds through underhanded means, or relying on “constituency funds”, which should not fall within their mandate to begin with
  • The government needs to guarantee funding to all constituencies, both those aligned with the ruling coalition and with the opposition, the amount of which shall be decided based on sensible metrics such as population size and the need for basic infrastructure
  • An asset declaration framework needs to be put in place as well to ensure that political funding is never abused for personal gain and would actually end up being put to use for the development of the constituency and its inhabitants
  • Article 49A of the Federal Constitution requires refining to account for a wider scope of situations where politicians can simply be bought over by promises or anticipations of funding or appointments to positions of power
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C4 Center

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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