The new year seems to have started on a wrong footing, what with the double whammy rejection coming from the Registrar of Societies (RoS) recently.
Two new political entities, which emerged out of a conflict within the ruling Bersatu party after the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government last February, have been denied registration as legitimate parties. In other words, it concerns the two applicants, which are practically Bersatu’s breakaway parties.
This technically means that Pejuang, spearheaded by sacked Bersatu chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda), led by sacked Bersatu youth wing leader Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, will not be able to recruit members and also contest as full-blown parties in the next elections as long as they are not legally registered.
It is most unfortunate that our freedom of association, enshrined in the Federal Constitution, has been violated once again – and with such arrogance of the RoS in not giving any reason for the rejection.
As part of a democratic process, forming legitimate political parties should not be as problematic so long as the applicants do not subscribe to ideologies or policies that promote violence. This easier administrative process is also to ensure that whoever is keen to contest in an election can do so on a level playing field.
Such a negative decision raises the question of the independence of the RoS, given that it is a unit under the powerful Ministry of Home Affairs, as this implies that the RoS is answerable to the minister concerned.
We must take cognisant of the fact that the minister may not be a disinterested party, whose political interests may cast a shadow over the RoS’ decision.
The present circumstances, under which Home Minister Hamzah Zainnudin is also Bersatu secretary-general, would reinforce public suspicion that he had a hand in the decision regarding the Pejuang and Muda applications, which is unjust and unprofessional.
Indeed, there appears to be a conflict of interest that might have jeopardised the applications of the two applicants, which are, as intimated above, nemeses of Bersatu.
In the interest of justice, legal reform is perhaps needed here so that the RoS is instituted in such a way that its professional independence cannot be doubted and that decisions can be made without fear or favour.
To be sure, the problem of getting registration from the RoS is not new. Political parties, such as the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), have had similar problems in the past under several administrations. Their applications were rejected or approvals delayed for a long time, as in the case of PSM.
During his first stint as Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration also used the RoS as a political tool to deny the legitimate right of certain citizens to freely form parties and associations.
For example, soon after the original Umno was declared unlawful by the Kuala Lumpur High Court in 1988 arising from the factional conflict between Team A (led by Mahathir) and Team B (headed by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah), supporters of the Team B faction applied to register their new party, Umno Malaysia. The application was rejected by the RoS, at the time under Mahathir’s watch, reportedly without providing any justification.
In a sense, PH, which promised reforms, squandered a golden opportunity to make certain crucial changes, particularly regarding the impartiality of the RoS.
Now, the chickens have come home to roost – or rather, the good doctor eventually has received a taste of his own medicine.
Structural reform of the government machinery, as the PH electoral manifesto pledged, would have ensured a greater degree of fair play and justice, irrespective of whoever subsequently takes over federal power.
Freedom of association, like freedom of expression, must be respected and protected as it is a basic right that citizens of a democracy should enjoy.
Source: The Malaysian Insight