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Time for Recall Elections

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

By Hariz Mohd (Malaysia Kini)

It is time Malaysia implements recall elections to address the issue of party-hopping among elected representatives. This was the general sentiment at a webinar themed “Recall Elections: A Solution to Party-Hopping in Malaysia?”

This morning’s webinar, which included Umno and DAP politicians, delved into recall elections, a system that allows voters in a constituency to remove their elected representative before the end of his or her term.

According to political scientist Wong Chin Huat, who gave the keynote speech, a recall election would allow registered voters who are dissatisfied with their incumbent representative to petition for his or her removal.

Thus, the voters would be given some immediate power over misbehaving representatives instead of having to wait for another few years before an election is called to vote again.

Chin Huat said politicians crossing the floor, or party-hopping, is actually a part of democracy. Some politicians do it on genuine political principles but some do it for their own personal interest which is a problem for the country, he said.

“It (a recall election) serves multiple purposes. We can also sack lawmakers if they break the law. Under the current rule, a lawmaker only loses his or her seat if they get sentenced to a year’s imprisonment or a RM2,000 fine which means a lawmaker can get away if the judge decides to be lenient.

Prof. Wong Chin Huat, Essex-trained Political Scientist

“A lawmaker can also be sacked if he or she is absent from the august House for six months but if the speaker grants leave, he or she can still get away with it.

“(With recall elections), we can actually put some limitations where voters will have some power to punish their incumbent lawmakers,” he said.

Onboard with reforms

The idea was well-received by other panellists including Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan.

“We might have to debate the circumstances where a recall election may be triggered and the threshold (of registered voters to trigger the election).

“But in terms of the idea, we are fully onboard,” he said.

Shahril Hamdan, Umno information chief

Shahril said recall elections should be one of the issues that Umno champions if it wants to be a party for the future.

Umno supreme council member Abdul Rahman Dahlan agreed, saying that his party should make recall elections a part of BN’s manifesto for the next general election.

“The party president has asked vice-president Khaled Nordin to spearhead manifesto discussions. I will speak to Khaled: some of the reforms must be in the manifesto.

“My party is not known for talking about reforms. But we should dabble in it, not only recall elections but also other reforms.

“Whichever party that presents whatever reform would have some advantage (in the general election). I believe it should be on the manifesto,” Rahman said.

Datuk Seri Panglima Rahman Dahlan, Former Malaysian Minister

The former federal minister added that any party leader who intends to contest for the Umno president’s post in its next party elections should include this reform agenda as part of their manifesto.

DAP’s Kluang MP Wong Shu Qi told the forum that addressing the issue would help strengthen democracy in the country, especially if party-hopping politicians have poor excuses.

“For me, to change your political party is 100 percent democratic. However, we need to tackle this issue faced in Malaysia where our representatives jump based on unreasonable excuses or personal interest. We need to reduce this as much as we can.

Wong Shu Qi, Member of Parliament for Kluang

“Like professor (Chin Huat) said, (former UK prime minister) Winston Churchill also jumped parties twice. For me, it is okay to defect if he or she disagrees with a policy. One also has the right to come out from a coalition or party in protest.

“But there must be a mechanism to make sure this is valid. To see if there is any personal interest involved, or if it was just for petty reasons.

“So a recall election is the best option,” she said.

Shu Qi added that having recall elections would lessen the chance of any inducement by political parties to entice opposing politicians to jump.

“Nobody would want to face a recall election. That would be a powerful deterrent,” she said.

Bersih to run mock recall elections

Meanwhile, panellist Thomas Fann from Bersih 2.0 told the forum that they are going to organise a mock recall election. He said this is to give the public a taste of the system. The exercise would be done online.

The plan is to also give voters whose representatives defected from their parties, a chance to have their say whether they agreed with the defections or not.

Thomas Fann, Chairperson of Bersih 2.0

“We are actually working with a technology firm to come out with a mock recall election. So Bersih is going to offer voters who have suffered defections (by their reps) to participate in a mock recall election.

“Because we are facing the Covid-19 pandemic, we are working with a technology company to do this online. So other words, it is actually an e-voting system we are working on. And it would be up to the standards of a real election,” he said.

According to the Bersih chairperson, participants in the mock recall election would be limited to registered voters at specific constituencies.

They expect to make an announcement on the initiative in a few weeks, he added.

*This article was published in Malaysiakini.

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