If I wasn’t alone in my car, I would have laughed aloud yesterday on hearing the 93.8 radio report of the Prime Minister’s reply to an MP’s question on a by-election for Hougang, a Workers Party seat vacated when it sacked its erstwhile treasurer Mr Yaw Shin Leong for alleged personal misdemeanors.
However, I resisted laughing for fear drivers in nearby cars might think me mad
After a good night’s sleep and waking refreshed to reflect a bit more on the matter, I can’t help laughing still.
As PM Lee said to Ms Sylvia Lim, WP chairman, who asked won’t Hougang residents be unde-represented in the interim while Mr Lee mulls when is a good time for the by-election: well, babe, who brought this on in the first place? Shouldn’t WP have considered such a possibility be4 taking the ultra drastic step that affects not only Mr Yaw but also some 25,000 Hougang residents, the majority of whom had supported WP?
But with friends like the WP, you don’t really need enemies as Mr Yaw has learned and as Hougang residents are learning now.
Add to that the friendly benevolence of high profile lawyer M Ravi. In one fell swoop by representing a part-time cleaner from Hougang to bring the by-election saga to the courts, he has ensured that Singaporeans in and outside of Parliament will be prevented from discussing the merits of the case till they have been decided by their lordships. To do otherwise would be sub judice, usually punishable by jail :(((((
The gods seem to be conspiring to favour the ruling party when every action taken by those opposed to it has turned out so far not to hurt the PAP but the Opposition!
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will call for by-elections in Hougang (reproduced from Yahoo website)
This is PM Lee’s full reply in Parliament to PAP MP Christopher de Souza’s question on a by-election in Hougang:
The Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC) seat is vacant after the Workers’ Party expelled Mr Yaw Shin Leong, following several weeks of media reports on Mr Yaw’s personal indiscretions. I intend to call a by-election in Hougang to fill this vacancy. However, I have not yet decided on the timing of the by-election. In deciding on the timing, I will take into account all relevant factors, including the well being of Hougang residents, issues on the national agenda, as well as the international backdrop which affects our prosperity and security.
As for the legal question of whether and when I must call a by-election, an application has been filed in court concerning this, so the matter is now sub judice, i.e. under the consideration of the court. While MPs enjoy parliamentary immunity in this House, our parliamentary convention is that we do not talk about matters which are sub judice, for good reason.
I can, however, remind Members that Parliament debated this issue extensively in 2008, when two NMPs moved a motion proposing to require the Prime Minister to call a by-election within three months of a seat falling vacant. I participated in that debate, and stated the Government’s position fully, after taking the advice of the Attorney-General. I consulted the present Attorney-General again to confirm his advice before answering today’s question. Let me summarise what I said in 2008 about the Constitutional position.
Article 49 of the Constitution states that when a seat falls vacant it shall be filled by election. In an SMC, a seat falls vacant when the MP vacates his office, for example when he is expelled from his political party, resigns his seat, or passes away. The timing of the by-election is at the discretion of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is not obliged to call a by-election within any fixed timeframe.
This absence of any stipulated time frame is the result of a deliberate decision by Parliament to confer on the Prime Minister the discretion to decide when to fill a Parliamentary vacancy. Then-Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew explained this when he moved the Constitutional amendment in December 1965:
“[This amendment] revokes a clause which was introduced into the State Constitution of Singapore when it entered Malaysia.
Members in this House will know that there was no such injunction of holding a by-election within three months in our previous Constitution. We resisted this particular condition being imposed upon the State Constitution at the time we entered Malaysia, but our representations were not accepted because Malaysia insisted on uniformity of our laws with the other States in the Federation and with the Federal Constitution itself.
Since we are no longer a part of the Federal whole, for reasons which we find valid and valuable as a result of our own experience of elections and of government in Singapore, we have decided that this limitation should no longer apply.”
The Constitution therefore reflects a political philosophy that emphasises stable government, and the view that in elections voters are primarily choosing between political parties to be given the mandate to govern the country, rather than between individual candidates to become MPs. We have kept the Constitutional provision because the considerations for enacting it in 1965 remain relevant today.