Sabah’s Balancing Act: Stability and Democracy

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KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah state assembly is set to table the much-awaited Anti-Hop law during this week’s sitting, with the wordings almost mirroring the one passed at the federal level last year.

The bill’s goal was to ensure political stability by restricting individual assemblymen from switching party affiliations but it does not stop political parties to change their alliances.

Political analyst Dr Lee Kuok Tiung said the bill will help ensure that political parties will not lose the candidates they support and fund in the event of election fallout.

However, he points out that the bill, focusing only on individual assemblymen, does not necessarily guarantee wider political stability.

“During the GE15, we witnessed how political blocs switched alliances despite anti-hopping laws because they cannot be prevented from jumping ship.

“As long as this provisions are in place, there will still be room for potential political instability,” he said.

Kuok also voiced his concern about the bill’s potential effect on democracy within political parties.

He fears that by restricting an assemblyman’s freedom to change parties, the bill may inadvertently centralise power with party presidents.

“An assemblyman has surrendered his rights completely to his president,” he stated, warning against the potential for a single individual to wield authoritarian control over the party.

Another political analyst, Dr Arnold Puyok however suggested that the bill is a good, even a necessary tool to combat the prevalent issue of politicians ‘jumping’ due to changes in patronage flow.

“Politicians should be allowed to change their party affiliations based on certain principles and values.

“But in Sabah, politicians ‘jump’ due to change in patronage flow. So, whether one likes it or not, the bill may be necessary to prevent them from hopping unnecessarily at their whims,” he said.

Nevertheless, Puyok is also cautious about the bill’s potential impact on the long-term political stability of Sabah, considering the state’s interdependence with federal-level politics.

He raised two crucial issues regarding the proposed bill: one being whether a party leaving a coalition can be considered an act of party hopping, and the second being the potential infringement of party members’ personal principles or values.

“The bill will oblige party members to follow party’s directives irrespective of his/her stance/principles, which is against the federal constitution’s freedom of association,” he cautioned.

Sabah’s political landscape is set to see significant changes if the bill succeeded and the current GRS government, led by chief minister Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Hajiji Haji Noor will go down in history as the government that was integral in ensuring a more stable political scene in the state.

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