Party Hopping and Respecting Voters’ Mandate
One of the most important elements in democracy is election. Regular and periodic elections indicate a strong democratic governance which allows eligible citizens to choose their representatives to the legislative institutions. So what happens after the whole process of elections are over? Voters definitely hope that there would be stability in the governance of the country and things can then go back to the same normalcy prior to the election period. They have made their choices and these choices must therefore be respected. Nonetheless, things might not be as rosy as how voters think it would be. Things can take a different turn after a democratic process such as an election when lawmakers elected by voters decide to cross over to another party from the one they have represented in the election. Terms like party switching, party hopping and floor crossing are used to identify the actions of the lawmakers. For voters, they would definitely feel some sort of injustice over the fact that their choices as voters have been disrespected and their participation in the election process was all done in vain.
For a country where democratic governance is uphold through the process of elections, voters should matter most. Voters’ choices in the ballot boxes are determined by many factors and among these are party identification, social setting and the advancement of technology that could actually influence voters in making their decisions. Party identification is when voters support and choose electoral candidates based on the party that the candidate represents. These voters also often identify themselves to that specific political party by becoming party supporters or members. So when the candidate of one party wins an election and then decides to switch allegiance by hopping to another party, voters who have initially voted for the candidate based on the party, would definitely feel violated.
When the Anti-party hopping bill was passed in the Dewan Rakyat and recently passed in Dewan Negara of our Parliament, there was a sigh of relief from many quarters in the society. The passing of such legislature shows the seriousness and commitment of lawmakers from different sides to ensure the matters related to party hopping are addressed accordingly. Although the bill is not as comprehensive as many want it to be, to have such a law in Malaysia can become a deterring factor to any elected lawmakers from switching sides at their whims and fancies or only taking into consideration their own personal benefits while ignoring the mandate or trust given by their voters. Malaysia definitely has it shares on the episodes of party hopping that have seen the country changing the government’s coalition and Prime Ministers within a span of four years. Although each change of leadership was done in a peaceful manner, nevertheless, it still indicates that stability of an elected government is not guaranteed if party hopping still becomes generously permissible.
Another important motivation for such a bill to be enacted is to regain the confidence of voters on the election process and democracy per se. Voters matter most when it comes to winning elections. A high percentage of voters that take part in elections show the confidence level of voters to the whole process and the interests that they have to determine the group of people who will govern the country. Anti-party hopping law would also allow for stability of an elected government. Lawmakers who are elected will have to quickly gear themselves into serving their constituents. Instead of entangling lawmakers into the power brokering mode by some quarters during the post-election period, the anti-party hopping law that will be put in place can become the deterring factor to such moves.
Lawmakers must understand that politics is actually the mechanism to advance the welfare of the people. Any decision made by an elected representative when it comes to party switching or hopping, is not just a personal decision. It involves the interests of thousands of voters who made their choices in the ballot box. Party hopping can cause political apathy among voters. It is damaging to democracy and can result to low voter turnouts in elections, lack of interests in national agendas and also adoption of an unconcerned attitude in anything they consider to be political. To elude political apathy among voters, they need to be rest assured that their voice and votes in the ballot box truly matters. An Anti-party hopping law would be able to do just that as it can bring back voters’ confidence to the process of election and respect the rights and decisions made by voters.