KOTA KINABALU, Nov 12 — The new anti-party hopping law might be put to the test if independent candidate Riduan Rubin wins the Tenom seat on November 19.
Lawyers here said that there is room for interpretation in the law in relation to independents joining a party as long as they have not been elected to office yet.
Riduan had submitted his nomination papers to contest the general election (GE15) as an independent despite being Youth chief of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (Bersatu) Tenom division.
Yesterday, he submitted a membership application to join Parti Kesejahteraan Demokratik Masyarakat (PKDM) and will be sharing campaign resources.
Lawyers such as Sabah-based Ryan Soo said that Riduan should be in the clear to join the party if he wins the seat.
“Any change of political party association needs to happen after he has been elected to trigger an anti-hop violation. So it is interesting because the timing falls right between the cracks. It is creative,” said Soo.
Soo said the prohibition specifically reads “having been” elected as an independent MP; hence, only then would Riduan be prohibited from joining a party.
“But he was in a party, and then joined another party before he was elected. And he ran and is still running as an independent, without the watikah from a party.
“So how do we classify him? My argument is that for the anti-hopping law to be triggered, the ‘hop’ has to happen after he is elected. And right now, there is space to move within limiting circumstances,” said Soo.
Sabah-based constitutional lawyer Tengku Datuk Fuad Ahmad also felt that Riduan was within his rights to be an MP for PKDM.
“The offence only happens once you are elected under the flag of a party. It doesn’t apply if you change parties before being elected.
“In this case, if you were nominated as an independent, and then joined a party, you haven’t hopped parties. You changed allegiance before being elected; therefore, you didn’t breach the anti-hopping law,” he said.
However, a different interpretation is that the law will only recognise Riduan as an independent MP if he wins the election because of the logo on the ballot paper.
Nelson Anggang, another Sabah-based lawyer, said that Riduan cannot be seen as an active member of any party or else he would be interpreted as no longer being independent.
“He is contesting as an independent candidate so the law will recognise him as an independent MP.
“Now if he wins and becomes an active member of the party, like holding an official post and doing any official duties as a PKDM member, he would be considered as hopping,” said Anggang.
He argued that most “independent” candidates have joined a political party before, and unless they were sacked or had resigned, they remain on record as members, albeit a passive or inactive one.
It becomes an issue if they identify as a party member by engaging in party business. At best, they can show support for a party’s policy and stand for election as “a friendly”.
“Ultimately, his joining PKDM does not come into play unless he wants to be involved in the party — attend a member’s meeting, hold party posts, etc.
“If he wins, does he want to be recognised as an independent MP or a member of a political party? If he wants to use his MP status for the party, then it violates the anti-hopping law,” said Anggang.
But the lawyer conceded that enforcement of the law might be trickier.
“It is still a grey area. It is still new and open to interpretation. An independent MP can still throw their support behind any party and remain independent.
“It would be interesting if someone were to test this by informing the Speaker that he has ‘hopped’. See how they interpret it. If he wants to be safe, then he should announce he is an independent MP,” said Anggang.
The lawyers all agreed that there would be no issue if Riduan does not win the seat. He would then only be subject to disciplinary action from the party he broke ranks with.
Riduan created controversy by contesting the Tenom seat against the wishes of the state’s Gabungan Rakyat Sabah and Barisan Nasional electoral pact which had picked Umno’s Datuk Jamawi Jaafar as its candidate.
The clash triggered confusion on the ground among the grassroots and also rocked relations between Bersatu and BN who are navigating the tricky situation of having to deal with their federal bosses falling out at the national level.
Riduan is now in a five-cornered fight with Jamawi, incumbent Noorita Sual from DAP, Warisan’s Ukim Buandi and another independent candidate Peggy Chaw.
Observers give him a fair chance of winning the seat thanks to his father’s influence in the area.
His father is Kemabong assemblyman Datuk Rubin Balang who also won on an independent ticket in the 2020 snap state polls before joining Bersatu.