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Analysis: Muhyiddin’s Bersatu sacks 7 elected representatives, though move unlikely to trigger by-elections

Analysis: Muhyiddin’s Bersatu sacks 7 elected representatives, though move unlikely to trigger by-elections
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KUALA LUMPUR: Seven elected representatives from Malaysia’s opposition party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) have been sacked after they failed to retract their support for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

And while analysts say the move may not trigger by-elections – six federal parliamentary seats and one Selangor state seat – Bersatu may have to exhaust all means possible to wrest the seats from their former representatives, including bringing the matter to court. The long-drawn out court process, however, may not augur well for Bersatu, analysts have noted.

And beyond that, the observers also said that key trends at a recent by-election in Kuala Kubu Bharu in Selangor state have shown an upswing in Malay votes in favour of the unity government, signalling that there may not be sure-wins for the opposition party even if by-elections were to be held.

Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan told CNA that while Malaysia’s anti-party hopping law applies to Members of Parliament (MPs) who quit their party, it did not cover those who have been dismissed, and thus the speakers of the federal or state parliaments, may not call by-elections. These speakers are also aligned with the unity government. 

“An MP who is sacked will not automatically lose their seat because the anti-party hopping law is silent on this,” said Dr Azmi, adding that they would be declared as independents were they to be dismissed by Bersatu.

“They will only lose their seats if they quit the party or switch to another party.” 

Six federal MPs – Dr Zulkafperi Hanapi (Tanjong Karang), Mr Zahari Kechik (Jeli), Mr Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid (Kuala Kangsar), Mr Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal (Bukit Gantang), Mr Suhaili Abdul Rahman (Labuan) and Mr Mohd Azizi Abu Naim (Gua Musang) – have pledged support for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in return for constituency allocations.

Selat Klang assemblyman and former Selangor Bersatu chairman Abdul Rashid Asari also declared support for the leadership of Selangor chief minister Amirudin Shari. Mr Amirudin is a member of Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

On Jun 1, Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin said that 25 MPs and 58 state assemblymen from the party had signed and returned their special notices on party loyalty.

He said the party’s elected representatives had signed the notice declaring their continued support for the party secretary-general Hamzah Zainuddin within the 14-day period since the letter was issued earlier in May.

“In accordance with the party constitution, any non-compliance of the Supreme Council directive would result in immediate termination of their membership,” he said.

Bersatu Youth Chief Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal told Malaysiakini that the party would write to Speaker of Parliament Johari Abdul that the six federal parliamentarians were stripped of their party memberships. Parliament reconvenes on June 24.

“It is written in the (party) constitution that they have to be stripped of their memberships (if they do not return a signed supreme council order as a pledge of their loyalty).

“It is just like UMNO and DAP’s party constitution … Their membership will automatically be stripped,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini, referring to the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Both are members of Mr Anwar’s unity government.

Speaking on behalf of the seven sacked Bersatu members, Gua Musang MP Mohd Azizi Abu Naim told broadcaster TV3 they did not respond to the notices and would only do so after getting an answer from the party on their removal.

Bersatu said on Mar 2 it had amended its constitution to automatically kick out MPs who defy the party position, in a move it said was aimed at preventing the government from stealing its MPs and its own members from exploiting a legal loophole to support other political parties.

Muhyiddin – who is also chairman of Perikatan Nasional (PN) – had claimed that Bersatu’s constitutional amendment, if approved by the Registrar of Societies (ROS), would compel the six MPs to vacate their seats and trigger a by-election, in line with the anti-party hopping law enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

The amendment got the nod from ROS earlier in April.

LAW CANNOT APPLY RETROSPECTIVELY: ANALYST

Political analyst Dr Mazlan Ali of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) told CNA that when the seven members of Bersatu declared their support for the unity government, Bersatu had not yet amended their constitution.

“I don’t think the law will apply retrospectively and they will not be disqualified,” he said, adding that parties such as DAP and UMNO had amended their constitutions “a long time ago” to cover this loophole.

He also said that the biggest obstacle for Bersatu would be the speakers of the two assemblies who would most likely rule in favour of the government and not declare vacancies that would necessitate by-elections.

“The by-elections have the potential of being something that could hurt the government, so I believe that they will avoid it,” he said.  

Meanwhile, Dr Azmi believes that Bersatu or PN could retain at least four seats if by-elections were to be called, while the other seats would see strong fights. 

“I believe that the status quo is still an advantage to the government. And the speaker at the end of the day is appointed by the government,” he said.

Mr Anwar currently has the backing of 153 members of the 222-strong Parliament – including the six dismissed Bersatu federal MPs.

DAY IN COURT FOR BERSATU?

The matter could also be brought to the courts for deliberation, but analysts believe that this would be a long-drawn affair.

“Bersatu has this option but this also takes a long time. After the High Court, there would still be the Court of Appeal and Federal Court for consideration. This could take a minimum of two years,” said Dr Azmi.

He argued that even if the courts declared the seats to be vacant by the end of the proceedings, no by-election would have to be called because it would be less than two years to the expiration of Parliament.  

According to Malaysian law, by-elections do not have to be held if a casual vacancy arises at a date which is less than two years from the date on which Parliament’s five–year mandate expires.

The Parliament’s current term expires in Dec 2027. The next general election would have to be called within 60 days of this expiry. 

Instead, the government will elect a coordinator for these seats and give them allocations, said Dr Mazlan. 

In the unlikely scenario that by-elections have to take place, Dr Mazlan foresees PN winning the Jeli and Gua Musang seats in Kelantan while losing the Labuan seat in Sabah. 

“The green wave is still strong in the East Coast states,” he said.

He, however, believes that the Kuala Kangsar, Bukit Gantang and Tanjong Karang seats would see strong contests.

Based on the recent Kuala Kubu Bharu by-election held last month, Dr Mazlan said that Barisan Nasional (BN) stood a chance in the seats they had lost in the last general election.  

“There has been a swing of Malay voters towards the unity government. Even two Malay-majority polling districts in Kuala Kubu Bharu were won by DAP. There is also a shift in votes by the army and police to the unity government,” he said.

“This means that there is some belief in the government and of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.”

UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had told local media that BN is prepared to wrest back the six federal parliamentary seats if they were declared vacant, noting that the seats used to belong to BN.

BY-ELECTIONS COULD WIDEN RIFT WITHIN PERIKATAN NASIONAL

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat from Sunway University wrote in an analysis that since the seven disobeyed instructions to withdraw their support for Mr Anwar, all of them ceased to be members of Bersatu.

He believed that five by-elections would have to be called – four for the federal parliamentary seats of Bukit Gantang, Kuala Kangsar, Labuan and Tanjong Karang as well as the Selat Kelang assembly seat. 

He said the representatives were elected as members of Perikatan Nasional (PN).

“As their PN membership was derived from Bersatu membership, they now cease to be PN members, and the Speakers – Tan Sri Johari Abdul and Ng Swee Lim — should write to the Election Commission (EC) about their seat vacancy within 21 days receiving the notification from Bersatu,” he said.

He however said that no by-elections would have to be called in Jeli and Gua Musang as the representatives contested and were elected under the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia’s (PAS) banner. PAS is a component party within PN.

During the 15th general elections in November 2022, PN used the PAS logo in the East Coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu, while the PN logo was used in other states.

“Technically, the duo was not elected to Dewan Rakyat as members of Bersatu … Their seats cannot be vacated under Article 49A (anti-party hopping law). Ironically, since they cease to be members of Bersatu, they are now free to join any political party, which they can also leave anytime without losing their seats,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Mazlan said that in the event by-elections were called, problems in PN could worsen as PAS could demand to contest the seats that were won by Bersatu.

He pointed out that even PAS’s spiritual leader Hashim Jasin said recently that the party could contest the seats instead of Bersatu.

Dr Mazlan said: “This isn’t a right thing to do in the spirit of friendship. You can’t say something like that and (this) conveys a wrong message. Maybe they are disappointed that Bersatu can’t keep a hold of their own lawmakers.”

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