With the delayed Padang Serai polls successfully held on 7 December, the 15th General Election (GE15) is finally done and dusted. At long last, all 222 Members of Parliament (MPs) have been elected and Malaysia can finally move forward.

However, before the first session of the 15th Parliament even started, there was a shake-up in the composition of the Dewan Rakyat. As reported by The Edge Markets, 4 Sabah MPs from Bersatu announced their exit from the party, part of an exodus that included all other Bersatu Sabah leaders.

The 4 MPs are

Armizan Ali (Papar)

Khairul Firdaus Akhbar Khan (Batu Sapi)

Jonathan Yasin (Ranau)

Matbali Musah (Sipitang)

Hence, despite winning the Padang Serai Parliamentary election and gaining one more MP, Perikatan Nasional (PN) seemingly lost 4 in return. This is a result of Bersatu Sabah leaders quitting the party en masse and pledging their support to the Unity Government under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Needless to say, the opposition bloc was livid with what had transpired.

PN chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin expressed disappointment at their lack of loyalty after the party “had placed them in a high position”. Meanwhile, the coalition’s Youth chief Wan Ahmad Fayhsal didn’t hold back and publicly branded those that left Bersatu Sabah as “ungrateful”.

Such public criticisms are the least of the four MPs’ worries though. Given their decision to quit Bersatu happened after the Anti-Hopping Law was passed, they are in danger of losing their seats in Parliament.

Or do they?

Well, despite the Anti-Hopping Law in place, all 4 MPs’ seats are actually secured because of how the new law functions. Moreover, it seems that the quartet had actually considered the possibility of changing allegiance post-election as it was revealed that they actually quit Bersatu before GE15 took place.

Wait, how can this be? Are they exploiting “loopholes” in the Anti-Hopping Law? Furthermore, if they had already resigned from Bersatu, how did they contest GE15 in the first place?

Anti-Hopping Law and the definition of a “member of a political party”

Unanimously passed in the Dewan Rakyat back in July and coming into effect on 5 October 2022, the law is enacted via a constitutional amendment as Article 49A in the Federal Constitution. Moreover, in lieu of the new law, Parliament also amended Article 10 to restrict the freedom of association for MPs subjected to the Anti-Hopping Law, as well as Article 160 and the Eight Schedule so as to make the Constitution consistent with the law.

Section 49A of the Constitution as per the Constitution (Amendment) (No. 3) Act 2022 is as follows:

Applied to the subject matter at hand, the main debate on the fates of the Sabah MP quartet is on the definition of “a member of a political party”. Given that all four MPs were members of Bersatu, which itself is part of the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition, does Section 49A view them as an MP under Bersatu or GRS?

As per the amendment of Article 160, the definition of a “political party” includes a coalition made of political parties “which has been registered under any federal law”. Therefore, GRS by all intent and purposes should fall within the definition of a political party.

This was also the view of the current Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform), Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said. Prior to the Unity Government being formed, she asserted that if a political coalition competed under one logo, presented one manifesto in GE15, and obtained their “watikah“ to run for GE15 directly from the leader of their respective political coalitions, these coalitions for all intent and purposes is a political party under the Anti-Hopping Law.

This is further supported by GRS’ own constitution which allows for the coalition to operate as a political party. Moreover, GRS also allows individuals to be registered as direct members and permits them to be members of more than one party. Hence, the fact that the quartet contested under the GRS banner rather than Bersatu may protect them from being affected by the Anti-Hopping Law. 

However, Azalina’s predecessor, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar disagreed with this argument, stressing that an MP’s departure from their political party is the only relevant factor and not whether they contested on a coalition’s ticket. The chairman of the parliamentary committee on the drafting of the Anti-Hopping Law itself, Wan Junaidi said that he designed the law to prohibit such things from happening and to create political stability in Malaysia.

Given the debate and ambiguity in the wording of the Anti-Hopping Law, the only way to find out which view is correct is to let the Courts decide. Hence, if PN and Bersatu were aggrieved by the actions of their four former MPs, they can take court action against them.

Nevertheless, all of this is purely academic now as it was revealed that all four MPs had left Bersatu in early October this year, prior to contesting in GE15. With this officially being established, Wan Junaidi himself confirmed that the quartet won’t have to vacate their seats as per the Anti-Hopping Law as they contested as direct GRS candidates.

As we mentioned earlier, GRS allows individuals to register as direct members, therefore there are no problems with them contesting in GE15 under the coalition’s banner. Despite some materials of their GE15 campaigns that may use the Bersatu banner, given their resignation from the party in October, the quartet are by all intent and purposes solely GRS members.

What about the Bersatu ADUNs that quit the party?

Another matter that arises from Bersatu Sabah leaders’ mass resignation from the party on 10 December is the fate of 15 Sabah State Legislative Assembly Representatives (ADUNs) that contested under the party’s banner during the 2020 Sabah State Election. Does the exodus mean that they have to vacate their seats too and with it, the fall of the Sabah State Government?

Simply put, no. This is because the Anti-Hopping Law only applies to MPs and Sabah has yet to implement a similar law for its ADUNs. Hence, unlike the crumbling Bersatu in Sabah, the GRS government under Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor is still standing.

Moving forward, now that the first session of the 15th Parliament is underway, one point of contention that the opposition has been bringing up is regarding the memorandum of understanding (Mou) between the leaders of the political coalitions and parties in the government. Is the MoU unconstitutional as the opposition claims it to be? Well, do stay tuned for our next insight as we dive directly into the matter.

Until then, one lesson we can take from all that has happened recently is that there is never a dull moment in Malaysian politics.

For more insights into the Malaysian legal system such as this, do make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram or visit our official website. You can also read our articles on the popular Malaysian news aggregator app Newswav here.