TL;DR – We wonder how they plan to “rectify the situation”.
Dr Chee Soon Juan sent this letter to PM Lee:
In the letter, he said that, in accordance with our constitution, a by-election must be held in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC because Mdm Halimah has resigned as MP.
Dr Chee is wrong though.
The Constitution is silent on when by-elections need to be held
We don’t know which version of the constitution Dr Chee read, but the Constitution of Singapore can be found online here. No part of the Constitution says that a by-election must be held if a seat of an MP becomes vacant. Here is the specific section of the Constitution:
49.—(1) Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.
What it means is that the Mdm Halimah’s vacant seat must be filled by an election. But it doesn’t mean that a by-election MUST be held. Mdm Halimah’s vacant seat can be filled at the next General Election.
The issue has been debated in Parliament
The first time this issue of whether a by-election is needed to fill a seat left vacant by an MP was when Dr. Ong Chit Chung (former MP for Jurong GRC) passed away suddenly in 2008. Back then, NMP Thio Li-ann moved a motion in Parliament to push for by-elections to be called if a member of a GRC belonging to a minority community vacates his/her seat.
That motion wasn’t passed. And PM explained why by-elections weren’t necessary. Singapore’s system of election focuses on political parties rather than on individual candidates. Candidates represent their respective political parties, and the party that attains the highest number of elected candidates forms the government. The governing party then receives its mandate through its candidates.
As a result, when Dr Balaji Sadasivan (former MP of Ang Mo Kio GRC) passed away suddenly in 2010, vacating his seat, no by-election was called. Similarly, no by-elections were called when the seats of Dr Ong and Mr Lee Kuan Yew were vacated when they passed away.
PM Lee had said this in an interview back in 2010,
“(There is) nothing automatic about calling for a by-election. We have discussed this many times. In Jurong, Dr Ong Chit Chung passed away, we have not called for a by-election, there are other MPs looking after the ward. In Ang Mo Kio GRC, there are six of us and the other five will help to look after Chengsan – Seletar ward. I see no difficulty.”
Looks like the people of Marsiling-Yew Tee don’t want it
There are those who will say that Parliament definitely won’t pass any MP or NMP’s motion for a by-election to be called. After all, PAP has a super-majority in Parliament. These people will say that PAP can change the Constitution to suit them. Sure. Fair enough.
Then let’s listen to the people who matter the most, the residents of Marsiling-Yew Tee who are directly affected by Mdm Halimah’s resignation. Do the residents want a by-election?
Abdul Salim Harun organised a petition drive on 12 August, going house to house in Marsiling, the former ward of Mdm Halimah.
Abdul had probably thought that there would be an overwhelming support from the Marsiling residents for a by-election to be called. He might have gotten that impression from online comments.
But he discovered that reality is very different from online sentiments.
Abdul found that “when you walked on the ground, it’s like you are given multiple tight slaps on your face for even suggesting for a BE to be held.”
Based on actual sentiments collected when Abdul and his team went door-to-door to solicit for signatures for the petition, they found that the residents are happy with status quo.
That corroborates with what we have gathered from friends who stay in Marsiling-Yew Tee – even if a by-election were held, chances are the PAP team would still be elected.
In other words, holding a by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC would likely be a waste of resources.
(Featured image via Todayonline)