From snollygoster ‘frogs’ … to three PMs in a year?

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Cartoon by Zunar

Perhaps, now more than ever, we need ‘anti-hopping’ legislation to be passed urgently, Henry Loh writes.

On 26 September, Sabahans went to the polls. The snap state election was triggered after Umno’s Musa Aman claimed he had gained enough support from state assembly members to topple the existing government.

Musa had sought an audience with the Sabah governor to prove he had the numbers to take over the state administration. To preempt this, then-Chief Minister Shafie Apdal met with the governor to advise him to dissolve the state assembly so the people would have the chance to decide.

The Sabah State Legislative Assembly was then dissolved on 30 July, and the Election Commission set 12 September for nominations and 26 September for polling.

When the dust settled after days of post-election intrigue over who would be the chief minister, Bersatu’s Hajiji Noor was sworn in on 29 September. Sabah Umno head Bung Moktar had been eyeing the position, but after some serious negotiations (including rumoured table-banging), he agreed to become the First Deputy Chief Minister and Public Works Minister. More on this further below.

To trace the events leading to the snap state election, we need to go back to the infamous “Sheraton Move” in late February, the resignation of then-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the collapse of the legitimately elected Pakatan Harapan government. That series of events paved the way for the formation of the Perikatan Nasional government with Muhyiddin Yassin as PM.

In the months that followed, the PH-led state governments of Johor, Perak, Kedah, Malacca collapsed due to defections and fell under PN control. Only the Selangor and Penang state governments remain under PH control. Hence Musa Aman in Sabah was merely trying to follow the trend that had been set in motion.

What stands out are the defectors, who were willing to jump ship and topple legitimately elected governments. Several commentators have remarked that calling these defectors “frogs” would be an insult to the real amphibians. A rarely used term – snollygosters – to describe such unprincipled politicians has gained traction of late.

What motivated these snollygosters to switch sides and topple these governments? Observers pin it down to their pursuit of power and expectation of personal gain, as many of them were rewarded with ministerial appointments or high-paying jobs in government-linked companies.

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The Sheraton Move has rankled many Malaysians, especially those who rallied and voted for change. They feel cheated and robbed. It would have been different if the current government had won the right to govern through an election rather than getting in through the back door.

If responsible politicians are serious about reform, they must look into the viability of passing “anti-hopping” legislation to curb such defections. As Aliran’s Mustafa K Anuar put it aptly, we need such a law “to combat political uncertainty and the desecration of the people’s right to choose their government”.

The oft-heard argument that an anti-hopping law would violate freedom of association, as provided under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution should be thoroughly studied. After all, Article 10(1)(c) “guarantees Malaysian citizens the right to the freedom of association”.

However, this freedom is not absolute. Article 10(2)(c) states: “Parliament may by law impose on the rights conferred by Article 10(1)(c), such restrictions as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation …. public order or morality….”

To me, as a lay person, an anti-hopping law would fall into the category of defending public morality. Legal experts can debate the finer points, but MPs must have the political will and the resolve to push through legislation to curb defections.

The Election Commission must propose changes to promote free and fair elections. This would include studying the feasibility of replacing or adapting the first-past-the-post electoral winner-takes-all system with a mixed-member proportional representation system.

Back to the Sabah state election. Warisan-plus, led by Shafie Apdal, had tirelessly promoted the narrative of unity for all the people living in the Land Under The Wind. His now famous quote – “We are here to build a nation not a particular race or religion” – was trumpeted throughout Sabah and resonated with all who believe in a Sabah for all Sabahans and a Malaysia for all Malaysians.

That clarion call for unity inspired Aliran’s P Ramakrishnan to issue a challenge to Muhyiddin, Zahid Hamidi, Hadi Awang and Najib Razak to declare their stand on this matter. Rama said that, out of political expediency, the leaders he challenged would never be brave enough to subscribe to this ideal of a nation for all Malaysians, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or creed. Instead, we hear calls for “ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacy) or that non-Malays are “pendatang” (immigrants).

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In the Sabah election, Warisan-plus collected 43.4% of the popular vote and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) received 43.2%, ie they were neck and neck. Other parties received 8.4% and independent candidates 5.0%.

We shouldn’t simply conclude that those who voted for GRS did not buy into the concept of unity that Warisan had promoted. Rather, as commentator Joe Samad put it, “(the issue of unity).. is like preaching to the converted in Sabah where there is little concern over the matter….”

So what motivated 43.2% of voters to support GRS parties? Much as these voters may value unity and nation-building, Warisan, in hindsight, should have prioritised bread-and-butter (or nasi-and-sayur) issues in its campaign.

Joe Samad again: “People need to be fed, people need jobs, people want economic and infrastructural development. Warisan should have promised to solve these issues instead of just talking about unity, which does not put food on anyone’s table.”

The coronavirus pandemic has hit many households, and all responsible politicians should focus on reaching out to their constituents who are in financial difficulty and going through hard times.

The big question is, can we trust and rely on the newly elected Sabah government to ease the people’s burden by carrying out programmes and activities to solve the many socioeconomic issues affecting them – poverty, unemployment, lack of accessible healthcare, shortcomings in education, the influx of undocumented migrants and glaring income inequalities?

To be fair, it has been only a week since the Sabah chief minister was sworn in, so it is too early to tell. But the tussle between Umno’s Bung Moktar and Bersatu’s Hajiji Noor for the coveted chief minister’s post has not inspired confidence. After finally reaching a compromise, Hajiji was sworn in as Chief Minister and Bung as First Deputy Chief Minister.

But then, a big fight broke out between Bung and Bersatu’s Masidi Manjun over who would hold the public works portfolio, which oversees big-ticket infrastructure projects. Early reports had indicated that Masidi had already landed the portfolio, but after protests from Umno and with Muhyiddin’s intervention, the post was given to Bung. Masidi had to settle for Second Finance Minister and Housing and Local Government Minister.

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All this serious tussling for positions makes us wonder whether it is a reflection of the elected representatives’ ardent desire to the serve the people – or could there be more sinister and personal motives? Frankly, the antics of past political leaders make me doubt that the fight to helm the public works ministry was for altruistic reasons.

The new state government must realise it is now being watched by the people. Making election promises is easy, but delivering and fulfilling them is another matter.

Elected representatives should work on Sabah’s rights contained in the Malaysia Agreement 1963, especially over petroleum revenue and oil royalties. Better internet connectivity, proper roads, reliable electricity and water supply are a few of the many issues that must be tackled. Can the elected representatives deliver – or will the people of Sabah have to wait for yet another state election?

At the federal level, Anwar Ibrahim has claimed he has enough support from MPs to form a new government. Since 23 September, he has been seeking an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agung in a bid to become the next PM.

If that happens, 2020 will surely go down as the year in which Malaysia had three prime ministers! That might elicit a laugh – but it is no laughing matter as it reflects just how fractious and divided our politicians have become. It also reflects how unstable the present government is.

Worse, if all those switching allegiances were enticed with the promise of rewards or some other personal gain, it would mean we have quite a few elected representatives who are snollygosters. That would not speak well of their integrity and loyalty.

Perhaps, now more than ever, we need ‘anti-hopping’ legislation to be passed urgently.

Henry Loh
Coordinator and co-editor, Aliran newsletter
6 October 2020
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Politi Scheiss
7 Oct 2020 4.10am

Very good points about the political culture today.

Instead of penalising party hopping, the law should be that if an MP or ADUN switched party mid-term, his or her seat will fall vacant and a by-election is held, in which the former MP or ADUN can re-contest the seat, under the ticket his or her new party.

This will be fair on the voters as to whether they want a particular party or a particular person to represent them.

loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
9 Oct 2020 6.38am
Reply to  Politi Scheiss

Good suggestion, Politi Scheiss.
But PH did nothing to this end in its 22 months rule. The backdoor govt. will do no such thing. Its very existence was a result of those snollygosters hopping!!

So, Shafie misread the Sabahans – yes, it happens, doesn’t it, to the most able politician.
It is sad for us who saw Shafie’s campaign tagline as the beginning of a new national political landscape.
But events have shown otherwise.
Race and cash is still king.

Anwar still hopes to be our nation’s third PM for this year. I doubt he can hold that record even as I wish him all the best! His list of snollygosters will have dwindle dramatically after the Sabah state elections results but it is good the King has finally agreed to see him.