I did not read this February 24th 2012 article written by a PAP MP, Hri Kumar Nair when it was first published. It was pointed out to by friends who asked me what I thought about it given what I wrote about the mandatory constitutional requirement of having a by-election in the Hougang constituency.
MP Nair writes:
Our parliamentary democracy is based on the principle that elections are fundamentally about voters choosing between different political parties to lead the country, rather than between individual candidates standing in a constituency.
In general elections, the issue is which party should form the government.
The last sentence in the quote above is true, but the preceding sentence is completely false. Our electoral system is based on voting for a person (or persons as per the textbook of gerrymandering, Group Representative Constituency) and not of a party. Yes, a person may or may not be a member of a political party. He can be an independent. On the ballot paper the candidate’s name and a symbol is indicated. That symbol could be of a political party or it could just be a symbol because the candidate is an independent. Singapore Election 101, MP Nair.
Therefore, when a seat falls vacant, there is no requirement to call an immediate by-election, unless the vacancy affects the Government’s mandate.
Nor should an MP’s resignation or expulsion force the Government to put aside more important national issues to focus on a by-election.
This model enables the Government to focus on governing Singapore well and improving the lives of Singaporeans. It has resulted in stability and progress for Singapore for half a century.
How wrong you are, MP Nair with the preceding statements! While you are correct say there is no requirement to call an immediate by-election, an election has to be called. See Section 49 of the Singapore Constitution which I include here:
Filling of vacancies49.—(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.
Yes, we need the government of the day to focus on building the nation and making sure that the country and the citizens progress, but all of that is not at the expense of the fundamentals of democracy that we Singaporeans, and I hope you MP Nair, hold dear.
Really? You are telling me that because the Workers’ Party’s candidate had won the seat, and since the candidate is no longer a member of the party, that the party has the rights to represent the constituency? Please show me where in our statutes it shows as such? Yes, the WP will want to do that and I think they will do a good job, but the citizens of Hougang are NOT represented in Parliament by anyone. So long as the seat is left vacant, the citizens of Hougang are being deprived of their constitutional rights of representation.
The formula that MP Nair is proposing is something that PAP has undertaken many times. I recall when I was growing up in Queenstown in the 60s and 70s, the PAP MP for the area, a Jek Yuen Tong, got posted to the UK as the Singapore High Commissioner for a number of years, while being an MP. And the Queenstown constituency was then “baby-sat” by whoever was the MP for the neighbouring constituency – whose name I can’t recall. I am guessing that Jek Yuen Tong was earning both the MP’s allowance and the salary of the High Commissioner, but that’s a different topic.
In contrast, some other parliamentary democracies operate on a different philosophy: The individual MP has more power than the party.
There, MPs can change parties within the parliamentary term and keep their seats, even cause governments to fall as a consequence, without the voters having any say in the matter.
Because the MP is the fundamental element of their system, by-elections must be held promptly when seats fall vacant. The United Kingdom is such an example.
The WP could force Mr Yaw to vacate his Hougang seat by expelling him from the party, only because it is operating under the Singapore model.
The WP could not have done this under the UK model, as Mr Yaw would have remained MP for Hougang even after his expulsion, and there would have been no by-election.
To call for an automatic by-election now that the Hougang seat is vacant, as Asst Prof Tan did, is to confuse the Singapore and UK models.
The preceding is a classic case of a false dilemma. Our parliamentary system is very clear about who can hold a seat in Parliament. If the person was elected into the Parliament under flag of a political party, the law is clear that if she is no longer a member of that party during the term of office as an elected MP, the seat falls vacant. In the case of the UK, that rule does not apply. MP Nair is comparing apples and oranges.
Frankly, I don’t understand why MP Nair is speaking up on this topic with this level of naïveté. It appears to me that the PAP (and MP Nair) are engaging in this mediocre level of debate because they clearly don’t have any credibility left.
This rebuttal is too easy.