Party-hopping

This of course is about a significant number of UMNO MPs seeking to join the coalition of the day, Pakatan Harapan. DAP and PKR have been firm about not accepting them, saying that this at the very least can be viewed as compromising the reform agenda.

PPBM, Mahathir’s party, and Amanah, the PAS break-off, (the 2 parties in Pakatan Harapan with the least number of MPs) have basically said that they will examine each application on a case by case basis and past political affiliation is not a disqualifying factor.

And so we have the odd situation where Rahim Thamby Chik, the guy Lim Guan Eng went to jail for exposing his misdeeds, seeking to join PPBM. On the other hand, we do have Dr Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim working together now so that should not really be so odd. (Though seriously do they want such unsavory characters?)

The issue in most people’s mind is that changes the results of GE14. And what this means, despite their objections to Anwar’s by-election in Port Dickson, is that most people understand that we vote for the party, not the individual, because of course most party-hoppers will say that they can serve their constituency better by coming under the umbrella of the political coalition in power. Which is likely true, in the Malaysian political scene.

The real issue (I think) in most people’s mind is that the hopper and the receiving party does so for selfish reasons. The one hoping for some degree of power, and the other, enlarging their vote bank. But selfish motives is true for most decisions, I would think.

To my mind, the real issue is larger: Almost all political parties (probably with the exception of PAS) are defined by personalities or race or both. (Even their “manifesto” is not truly defining and in any case manifestos are put out by coalitions and only during elections.) At the same time, PPBM and Amanah have not been around long enough to be well-defined in terms of values and principles.

(Perhaps DAP can be a model for future political parties. Despite insistent labelling as “chinese” by UMNO, DAP seeks the participation of all races. And in ideology they are largely socialist, I think, but they still have ways to go to define themselves, mostly because they have not been in power for long. On the other hand, I think it is true of DAP also that they have been able to attract young idealists and they have been at the forefront in defining the party. That might change now that they are in power.)

All this means is that it makes very little difference which party an MP belongs to, where the constituency is concerned. It also makes little difference to the MP which party he belongs to. There are no clear principles that he compromises in crossing the aisle. (Just like a Man U player now playing for Liverpool.)

This is to say that in terms of political parties, Malaysia is at its infancy. After all in her entire existence this is the first time a different political alliance is in power. Perhaps over time (decades) the choices as to what kind of administration we will expect under each different coalition will become clear. But not now.

So, I think party-hopping for now has very little meaning, unless it changes the government, state or federal. From a practical point of view having the votes on your side is better than having the votes on the other side. And if you don’t care about differentiating your party (except of course in terms of corruption) as is the case for PPBM, there is little compelling reason otherwise.

On the larger picture, there is little reason to be seen as “rejecting” UMNO if UMNO in many people’s mind stands for Malay. You do want to project the picture that Malay representation continues to be strong in the Government of the day.

Will the influx of UMNO MPs into Pakatan Harapan change the agenda of the coalition? For now, it is unlikely that PPBM will have the numbers to go it alone, or even with Amanah. PKR-DAP is still the strongest group. But, this is Malaysian politics and one cannot overestimate the propensity of leaders to ruin the good they can do for the country in service of their own ego.

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