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Making sense of crossovers, Part 3: Moral and democratic issues; Suggested alternatives

It is clear that the pursuit of crossovers by the Opposition has been to gain power. The power to change government policy; to do good for the people; to make Anwar the next Prime Minister. That last reason looks less altruistic than the rest, but serves as a reminder of the cult of personality that is PKR.

There are many Malaysians who are against a change of government taking place by the crossover method. The common argument focuses on morality and democracy.

Subversion of democratic process

Democracy (noun): Government by popular representation; a form of government in which the supreme power is retained by the people, but is indirectly exercised through a system of representation and delegated authority periodically renewed; a constitutional representative government; a republic.

– Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary

The Federal Government of Malaysia follows the Westminster system of government inherited from the United Kingdom. Under this system there is a Head of State (our Agong), Head of Government (Prime Minister) and Parliament consisting of lower house (Dewan Rakyat) and upper house (Dewan Negara).

The Prime Minister is appointed based on the Agong’s judgement that he commands the majority of the Dewan Rakyat. In practice this position goes to a representative from the largest political party. The Prime Minister then appoints his Cabinet ministers from either house. It is even legal under our Constitution to have a mixed Cabinet of Opposition and BN members, though that has never happened.

If the members of the Dewan Rakyat lose confidence in the Prime Minister, they can choose to show this lack of confidence by refusing to pass a vital Bill such as the Budget, or take a vote of no confidence. The Prime Minister can then resign his post or call for general elections.

The crossovers being discussed are of members of the Dewan Rakyat – our Members of Parliament (MPs). They are individually elected by voters in their constituencies during the General Elections.

To put it simply, in practice:

  1. Voters vote for their MP in the elections
  2. The total MPs that are elected are tallied up and the majority party is determined
  3. The party that holds the majority is presumed to have control of the government
  4. The Prime Minister is selected from the majority party and appoints his Cabinet members
  5. The MPs may call for a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister
  6. Voters who want change of government vote for the party they support in the next election

The voting process is how the people exercise their power over the government, satisfying the definition of democracy. That is what happened in March ’08 – an unprecedented number of people were tired of BN and voted for the Opposition.

The excuse given by the Opposition is that voters select an individual candidate based on personal capability and character, not party. As such the candidate is free to make independent choices based on what serves the constituency first. So if the candidate feels he is unable to perform his duties by virtue of being in the wrong party, he should feel free to cross over.

This is an academic point of view.

This excuse ignores the fact that not all voters have the luxury of getting to know their candidate. In the fast paced life we live in today, many find it impossible to make time to attend speeches or look at the candidate’s track record. Ideally the voters would get to know all the choices and arrive at an informed decision.

The reality is that countless voters voted based on party, not individual. The rights of these voters need to be respected, and that is why crossovers are viewed as a betrayal of the voter. It is not fair for the academics to point at these voters and say they were wrong to vote based on party.

There are voters who voted for an Opposition candidate solely because they wanted Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister.

There are voters who voted for a BN candidate solely because they wanted the rights of their race to be protected.

There are voters who voted for an Opposition candidate solely because they had lost faith in BN.

There are voters who voted for a BN candidate solely because they did not trust the Opposition.

Do their votes not count? How they choose to vote is their right, and no-one should question their reasoning.

The moral argument

When one talks about morality, it is important to realise that right and wrong depends on the point of view taken. Coming back to the crossovers that are expected to occur:

1. It is immoral because it betrays the voters who voted primarily based on party. It also betrays the party members who supported the MP’s rise to power. The MP is viewed as a representative of the party first.

2. It is moral because by virtue of being elected the MP has the confidence of his constituency and can choose to serve another party so long as it benefits the constituents. The MP is viewed as a representative of the constituents first.

Given that both points of view are true, advocates of either view are not wholly right or wrong. Yet they behave as though they are morally superior to their opponents. Talking about morality is time-wasting at best. If you are a voter and your MP is crossing over, ask yourself these questions:

1. Is the MP’s party that you voted for still the party you wish it to be?

2. Is the party that the MP is crossing over to one that you trust and share ideology with?

3. If the crossover will cause a change of government, do you have faith in the leaders of this new government?

Suggested alternatives

We have seen that the act of getting MPs to switch parties to force a change of government is a subversion of democratic process. Regardless of whether you view it as moral or immoral, the voters did not get a say in it. What follows are a number of suggested alternatives.

Ask MPs to step down and have by-elections

An election is the only way to confirm that voters in a given constituency want change. This is the best alternative because it does not raise any democratic or moral issues and helps legitimise the formation of a new government by the Opposition. However it is not feasible for a number of reasons.

Any MP who steps down is barred from being a member of the Dewan Rakyat for five years (Federal Constitution Article 48 Clause 6). Not only would this be a political setback for some, but their income has to be considered as well. If they have been fulltime career politicians, they may not be able to enjoy the same level of income by seeking employment elsewhere.

So you would be asking the MP to sacrifice their status in their constituency and money. It is true that they would gain goodwill by doing this act of charity ‘for the nation’, but goodwill does not put food on the table and fades altogether very quickly. How many politicians out there would take such a personal loss to serve others?

The Opposition cannot be seen giving them money to make up for the loss, or making them Senators so they can still enjoy their privileges. It would be interpreted immediately as a bribe.

The election process is still viewed by the Opposition as corrupt, so they would not trust any by-election. In the March ’08 elections Sabah and Sarawak voted almost entirely for BN. It was only six months ago, so how much of a swing could be expected? Crossovers are the safest way for the Opposition to seize control of these constituencies.

Get voters to sign petition of endorsement/condemnation

While not as strong as asking MPs to step down, this alternative can show the public whether the crossover is supported by the voters in that constituency. It helps pressure the MP in making a decision on whether to make the leap or publicly state he won’t.

Call for a vote of no-confidence

The Opposition had tried to push a motion of no-confidence for debate in Parliament on July 14th 2008 but it was blocked by the Speaker of the House. Such a motion if passed would not even have resulted in a vote, yet it was blocked. On the day itself the Parliament House and roads surrounding it were put under heavy guard by the police, even to the extent of placing barb wire.

Parliament will reconvene in October, so there is still a chance for a no-confidence motion to be made.

Component parties leaving BN

If component parties such as MCA, MIC and Gerakan left BN they would still retain their independence and not be seen as opportunists jumping to the Opposition. Their supporters could still remain loyal as the party had not joined the ‘hated Opposition’. Once the BN coalition becomes smaller it would no longer command the majority in Parliament and the Prime Minister would be forced to resign.

SAPP would most likely be the first to do this, as they publicly showed a lack of faith in BN in June.

Closing

If it were another country, waiting for the next election would be the norm. However the present government has a history of using existing draconian laws to clamp down on freedom of speech – not to the extent of military rule, but just enough to create fear in the majority. It has made no effort these many decades to foster a strong Opposition.

In practice we live under a one-party system which is in dire need of change. The moral issues with crossovers still remain, and as a nation we will never know how acceptable crossovers are to us until the next election. The power to change the government should always rest with the voters and we must strive to keep it there.


Making sense of crossovers

This series of articles tries to analyse the unending efforts of the Federal Opposition to take over the government by getting BN MPs to join them. Their goal is to get at least 31 BN MPs to change their allegiance on September 16th.

Part 1 looks at how PKR grew and the state it is in now, as they are the prime mover of the crossover ‘operation’.

Part 2 discusses the many justifications heard to support the crossovers.

Part 3 discusses the moral and democratic issues and suggested alternatives.

Part 4 describes ways to prevent and encourage crossovers.

Part 5 offers some parting thoughts and views on recent events

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Written by ak57

September 24, 2008 at 6:47 am

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