SDP files law­suit to man­date Mar­sil­ing-Yew Tee by-elec­tion

Today - - SINGAPORE | NEWS -

SIN­GA­PORE — The Sin­ga­pore Demo­cratic Party (SDP) has gone to court to seek a dec­la­ra­tion that a by-elec­tion must be called in Mar­sil­ing-Yew Tee Group Rep­re­sen­ta­tion Con­stituency (GRC), to fill the seat va­cated by Madam Hal­imah Ya­cob af­ter she re­signed last month to con­test the Elected Pres­i­dency.

Law firm Peter Low & Choo is rep­re­sent­ing the op­po­si­tion party in chal­leng­ing Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong’s de­ci­sion to ap­point Mr Zaqy Mo­hamad, a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (Chua Chu Kang GRC), as grass­roots ad­viser in Mdm Hal­imah’s for­mer ward in­stead of call­ing for a by-elec­tion.

The SDP’s law­suit was filed yes­ter­day, the same day Mdm Hal­imah was de­clared Pres­i­dent-elect af­ter run­ning un­op­posed in Sin­ga­pore’s in­au­gu­ral re­served polls.

A pre-trial con­fer­ence has been sched­uled on Oct 9.

Fram­ing its le­gal chal­lenge as a bid to block the rul­ing Peo­ple’s Ac­tion Party (PAP) from “(do­ing) as it pleases”, the SDP said in a press re­lease: “It was the PAP that man­dated that each GRC in­clude at least one can­di­date from a pre­de­ter­mined mi­nor­ity race. But the same party is also the one who has ar­bi­trar­ily de­cided that if that mi­nor­ity mem­ber re­signs, there is no need to re­place him or her in a by-elec­tion.”

It cited Ar­ti­cle 49(1) of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which states: “When­ever the seat of a Mem­ber, not be­ing a NonCon­stituency 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”.

The SDP, which had con­tested and lost in Mar­sil­ing-Yew Tee GRC in the 2015 Gen­eral Elec­tion with 31.3 per cent of the votes, added: “The PAP ... is just a po­lit­i­cal party ... And like any other po­lit­i­cal party, it must serve the na­tion by re­spect­ing democ­racy — es­pe­cially in spirit — en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

The three re­main­ing MPs in Mar­sil­ing-Yew Tee GRC — Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Lawrence Wong, Mr Alex Yam and Mr Ong Teng Koon — have said they will take care of Mdm Hal­imah’s for­mer con­stituents as a team.

This is the sec­ond time a le­gal chal­lenge has been mounted in re­la­tion to whether a by-elec­tion is manda­tory

It was the PAP (Peo­ple’s Ac­tion Party) that man­dated that each GRC in­clude at least one can­di­date from a pre­de­ter­mined mi­nor­ity race. But the same party is also the one who has ar­bi­trar­ily de­cided that if that mi­nor­ity mem­ber re­signs, there is no need to re­place him or her in a by-elec­tion. The Sin­ga­pore Demo­cratic Party in a press re­lease

when a seat is va­cated. In 2012, Madam Vel­lama Marie Muthu, a res­i­dent of Hougang Sin­gle Mem­ber Con­stituency (SMC), filed an ap­pli­ca­tion to get the courts to de­clare that the Prime Min­is­ter does not have “un­fet­tered dis­cre­tion” in de­cid­ing whether and when to call a by-elec­tion.

She did so af­ter then-MP of the ward, Mr Yaw Shin Leong, was ex­pelled by the Work­ers’ Party (WP) over what it termed “in­dis­cre­tions in his pri­vate life”, leav­ing his par­lia­men­tary seat va­cant.

A High Court ruled later that the Con­sti­tu­tion does not man­date that the Prime Min­is­ter hold a by-elec­tion to fill the va­cated seat of an elected MP.

The rul­ing was over­turned on ap­peal, with the Court of Ap­peal say­ing that the Prime Min­is­ter does not have “un­fet­tered dis­cre­tion” in whether to call a by-elec­tion.

How­ever, the Court of Ap­peal also noted that in the Hougang case, it ap­plied only to an SMC, “as there is a spe­cial pro­vi­sion where a va­cancy arises in a GRC”.

The is­sue was also raised in Par­lia­ment in Fe­bru­ary this year dur­ing a de­bate on changes to the Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tions Act.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion from WP MP Pri­tam Singh (Alju­nied GRC), Min­is­ter in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice Chan Chun Sing said that a by­elec­tion will not be called if a mi­nor­ity can­di­date va­cates a seat in a GRC.

Mr Chan cited an ex­pla­na­tion by Emer­i­tus Se­nior Min­is­ter Goh Chok Tong on the GRC sys­tem decades back — that the in­tent was to en­sure enough mi­nor­ity mem­bers in the House and that there would be no po­lit­i­cal cam­paign on is­sues of race and re­li­gion.

Mr Chan noted that th­ese goals would not be af­fected if one mi­nor­ity mem­ber of a GRC left.

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