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Penanti: Frivolous or principled?

Will another by-election simply be a waste of money, as the prime minister has said?

THE impending Penanti by-election has raised the question about whether elected representatives and their political parties ought to be penalised for “frivolous” resignations.

But just who determines what is frivolous? And how should the public interpret statements such as those by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak that the Barisan Nasional (BN) might sit out of the polls because contesting would be a waste of public funds?

Indeed, there is election fatigue among the political parties, and perhaps even among voters. But one should distinguish between the BN’s right to contest or not, and their insinuation that the Penanti by-election is a “political ploy”.

Publicity stunt?

Several BN quarters have criticised Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) for seeking publicity through a by-election, for burdening the rakyat, and over the invalidity of the reasons cited by the resigned representative, Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin.

Following Najib’s statement, Election Commission (EC) deputy chairperson Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said the time was ripe to amend existing laws to prevent abuse by political parties that force their representatives to resign for personal or party reasons. He said the rakyat should not be made to bear the cost of having a by-election.

Wan Ahmad
Elaborating further, Wan Ahmad suggested a need for laws that would determine how a seat vacancy is caused. He says “logical” causes of vacancies would include death of the elected representative, illness that renders the representative unable to serve, criminal conviction by the courts, or the reasons for disqualifications as listed in Article 48(1) of the Federal Constitution.

“But if a resignation is on purpose due to internal party problems, poor planning by the party, or even personal problems, such problems should not burden the people,” Wan Ahmad told the The Nut Graph.

Proposed penalities

Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang, in a press statement on 21 April 2009, came up with two proposals to penalise assemblypersons “resigning without good reasons”.

He said current laws have no provisions that punish the party of the resigned representative to make them more responsible in selecting future candidates.

As such, Tan has proposed that the party of the resigned representative should be disqualified from contesting in that particular seat for five years from the date of the resignation.

This would be an extension of Article 48(6) of the Federal Constitution which bars an elected representative who resigns from his or her seat from contesting for the next five years.

Tan Keng Liang
However, Tan adds that other parties from the same coalition as the penalised party should not be barred from contesting.

Secondly, Tan proposes a monetary penalty of RM50,000 for each assemblyperson and RM100,000 for each Member of Parliament who vacates his or her seat for reasons other than death, illness or other circumstances that render the assemblyperson unfit to serve.

But he doesn’t believe the punishment should be as severe for party-hoppers based on the principle of freedom of association. “If the resignation is to seek a fresh mandate from the people for the representative to join another party or coalition, the monetary penalty should be halved,” he said.

Additionally, he also says that the current five-year ban from contesting in an election should be lifted so that party-hoppers can get a fresh mandate from voters for joining another party.

Right to resign

Lawyer Edmund Bon believes such proposals will be impossible to enforce. The constitution does not stipulate that reasons for resigning must be given.

“How would it be possible to determine whether the reasons for resigning are genuine or not?

Edmund Bon
“If a representative has a personal problem, say allegations of corruption in Penanti’s case, and knows his [or her] service will be hampered, is he [or she] not resigning for the right reasons?”

Bon, who is the Bar Council’s new chairperson for its constitutional law committee, adds that the current penalty of banning a resigned representative from re-contesting for five years is sufficient, and even regressive.

“That clause is one of the reasons why representatives party-hop when the moral thing to do is to run again on a different ticket to let voters decide.”

Bon adds that if Fairus’s resignation was really due to PKR’s internal problems, voters should be allowed to “punish” PKR though a by-election.

“In this way, PKR is forced to get its act together. Let voters decide, and not a body like the Election Commission or the government by having more laws,” says Bon.

The BN’s right

Universiti Malaya associate professor in administrative studies and politics, Dr Terence Edmund Gomez, cautions against getting caught up with the political finger-pointing between BN and PKR over the Penanti by-election.

Shahrir Samad
“Elected representatives don’t simply step down for no reason. There has been no instance in history except for (Datuk) Shahrir (Abdul) Samad, who stepped down on principle. After that, the BN enacted the five-year ban against contesting.

“In the Penanti case, I think the elected representative correctly stood down to deal with the allegations of corruption. Under such circumstances, it’s only proper to have a by-election.”

As such, the democratic principle of a representative’s right to quit, and the voters’ right to choose, should be set apart from rhetoric about frivolous resignations.

Taking the EC to task, Gomez adds, “If Najib says BN doesn’t want to contest, then that is the BN’s right. It won’t make a difference to the fact that Penang is still run by the opposition. So there is no reason for such comments by the EC that we must now look at more laws to determine the reason for resignations.”

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16 Responses to “Penanti: Frivolous or principled?”

  1. D Lim says:

    The rakyat elected someone to office. If for some reasons, the representative has to resign, then it goes back to the rakyat to decide. The rakyat will decide whether the representative did right or wrong in resigning and if the rakyat feels the latter, then they reserve the right to punish the representative (and hence the party).

    What the BN is proposing now, in my personal opinion, smacks of opportunism. It is not for them to decide whether the rakyat is happy with their representatives’ resignations. Why is BN selective in according the rakyat’s rights? When it comes to justice and for the common good, money cannot be the criteria.

    If that be the case, we might as well not hold any elections for as long as possible… we can save more!!

    The concept of elections is to select someone whom the rakyat accords their rights to represent them. The timing of elections allow the rakyat to rethink their choice every 4 to 5 years and if they think they made a good one, they continue to vote for the same representative and vice versa. That is good governance. It keeps the representatives on their toes.

    Look at what happened to local councils when local council elections were eliminated? The same inefficient and ineffective people remained and in the final analysis, the people who suffer are the ordinary people who rely on efficiency to make their lives less stressful and problematic! Why can’t we pay for what we get instead of we pay for what we don’t ask for!

  2. ganesh says:

    On the whole there have been very few BN reps who have stood down on a matter of principle. Datuk Shahrir is one. Datuk Zaid is another who comes to mind, but he has quit BN altogether. As for stepping down due to allegations of corruption (in the BN), if that were to be the case we might never have had the tsunami of 8 march.

  3. beeyong says:

    Great thinkers.

    EC, can you relate to the three frogs in Perak with what your boss has spoken? Ask your boss whether he understands the meaning of “All conditional things are impermanent. Today I am okay, tomorrow I am not. Today, I think like this tomorrow, I perceive differently.” We are humans, we progress as well as regress.

    To Tan, learn from Bon and Dr Gomez.

  4. Suresh says:

    I agree that a penalty should be imposed…..but I think the amount needs to higher.

  5. Michael says:

    Datuk Mukhriz, deputy minister of MITI also agrees with Tan Keng Liang. I think the government should look into the matter more seriously this time!

  6. David Anthony says:

    What publicity stunt will be of any gain to PKR? There is no logic in unnecessarily creating a vacancy when they are in possession of the seat. Why take the risk of losing it? Accusing PKR of a publicity stunt is a BN publicity stunt.

    Be wary of Najib’s call not to contest, that too is a publicity stunt to catch the opposition off guard for at the last monemt they will slot in a surprise candidate. The EC, like the judiciary, the police, the royalty and other institutions have all lamentably lost their independence.

  7. JS Teh says:

    I think Tan and Datuk Mukhriz came out alone in BN on this issue……..where are the rest of the BN people?

  8. Felix says:

    [In reply to] Edmund Bon from [the] Bar Council….the issue is to stop wasting public funds in by-elections and how to prevent them la….

  9. Jeff See says:

    I think the penalty is too low. Perhaps should double the proposed penalty to RM100k and RM200k!

  10. mat_sabu's_brader says:

    If a representative has been accused of and investigated for corruption, it would be highly commendable for him [or her] to resign his [or her] seat and let the people choose someone else to represent them, while the person concentrates on clearing his [or her] name. If he [or she] chooses not to, it is incumbent upon his [or her] party to seek his [or her] resignation, both for the party’s credibility and in the people’s interest.

    If only Umno and BN and their wakil rakyat would abide by this principled stand, then there’s a chance that the rakyat would start taking them seriously again. Let’s start with Sungai Besar: will YB Khir Toyo resign, and if not can we expect Umno to pressure him or disown him?

  11. Lucy says:

    Well written, Deborah….especially on the proposal on the penalty and the freedom of association.


  12. ambo says:

    It’s a waste of public funds when it’s PR’s turn but not for BN. What an excuse….

    If I can still remember, when Muhammad Taib resigned (?) as MB of Selangor, somebody (BN) had to resign as ADUN to allow Hassan Omar (then a federal minister) to contest a state seat in order to become MB….

    Don’t give the excuse of a waste of public funds. Instead if BN is not contesting because it cannot win, then just say it will be a waste of funds for BN….it will be seen as a more honest comment.

  13. Jason Teoh says:

    It looks like Mukhriz hijacked Mr Tan’s idea on the “penalty for unreasonable resignation”.

  14. beeling says:

    Mmm….I also saw Mukhriz on NTV7 just now. He was agreeing with the penalty idea.

  15. Peter Lee says:

    I think SPR really need to consider amendments to the laws in our country. Too many by-elections and wasting people’s money, time and energy.

    Our country really needs to revitalise its economy and not play politics everyday. I agree with Tan Keng Liang’s view that a penalty must be imposed to curb unnecessary by-elections. But I think amount needs to be higher … maybe double. Too high also is not good as it may prevent people from becoming assemblypersons. If I am not wrong, there is already a five-year ban.

    I think what Tan should do is to send in a proposal to SPR so that this view can be considered by SPR.

  16. Fikri Roslan says:

    By-election boleh diadakan kalau wakilnya tidak mempunyai keupayaan untuk meneruskan perkhidmatan seperti mati atau hilang upaya. Kalau saja-saja, maka perlu ianya membayar penalti. Kalau boleh biarlah partinya yang bayar.

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