By-elections Parliamentary elections

NCMPs as Punggol East By-election Candidates

Gerald Giam photographed in April 2011
Workers’ Party NCMP Gerald Giam in April 2011. Will the opposition parties field one of their NCMPs as a candidate in the forthcoming by-election? (Photograph by [CC-BY-2.0], via the Wikimedia Commons.)
Dr Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU

I’M INTRIGUED that the media has been reporting that the Workers’ Party may field one of their existing Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) as a candidate in the forthcoming by-election in Punggol East Single Member Constituency.[1]

This possibility, which I have previously blogged about, arises because of the way Articles 46(2A) and 46(2B) of the Constitution[2] are drafted. These provisions state:

46(2A) A non-constituency Member of Parliament shall vacate his seat as such a Member if he is subsequently elected as a Member of Parliament for any constituency.

(2B) A nominated Member of Parliament shall vacate his seat as such a Member —

(a) if he stands as a candidate for any political party in an election; or

(b) if, not being a candidate referred to in paragraph (a), he is elected as a Member of Parliament for any constituency.

As you can see, under Article 46(2B)(a) a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is expressly required to vacate his or her seat in Parliament if he or she “stands as a candidate for any political party in an election”. On the other hand, Article 46(2A) merely requires an NCMP to vacate his or her seat if “subsequently elected as a Member of Parliament for any constituency” (emphasis added).

The difference in the wording of the two provisions is significant. It suggests that, unlike NMPs, NCMPs do not have to vacate their parliamentary seats to stand as a candidate for a political party in an election. Furthermore, the way Article 46(2A) is phrased suggests that if an NCMP participates in an election but is not subsequently elected, he or she does not have to vacate his or her seat.

I’m not sure this was the result the drafters of the clauses were aiming at, and wouldn’t be surprised to see an amendment to the Constitution after the by-election.

The writer is an Assistant Professor of Law who teaches and researches administrative and constitutional law at the School of Law, Singapore Management University.

1    See, for instance, Andrea Ong & Elgin Toh, “Gerald Giam the most likely choice”, The Straits Times (12 January 2013), p A12.
2    Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1985 Rev Ed, 1999 Reprint).

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  1. NMPs are supposed to be apolitical, which is why they lose their seats the moment they run as a candidate for a political party (Art 46(2B)(a)), but do not lose their seats if they run as independents (Art 46(2B)(b)). In contrast, NCMPs are inherently political, since they are nominated by their parties to fill the NCMP seats, so they can retain their NCMP seats even if they run for a party but lose.

    1. That’s an interesting rationale. You may well be right, as that would fit the possibility that sitting MPs can apparently also contest by-elections without resigning, and can resume their parliamentary seats if unsuccessful (see my previous post). It still seems rather strange to me that sitting MPs and NCMPs can contest as candidates in by-elections, though. Anyway, the issue is now moot as the Workers’ Party has decided to nominate a candidate who is not one of their NCMPs.

      1. Me thinks tt as long as they represent the SAME party under which they were elected in in the first instance, there should be no problem (for NCMPs); however, existing MPs should resign so as not to arise a conflict as to which constituency they represent since each MP should only represent ONE constituency at a time.

      2. I agree with Christopher – it is due to politicalisation of the MPs that matters here. NMPs are members of the public that has reached certain standing in society to be viewed as experts in various subject-matters to provide an alternative view of non-politicised public viewpoint. The moment that they try to run for a parliamentary seat, they become politicised and defeats the purpose of having a NMP. Whereas in the case of existing MPs to run for another constituency will be trying to cheat the system, which I hope that the constitution has it accounted for, because it will always guarantee that the individual will be a MP, or remains one. That should not be the case as it puts the opposition competing for the seat at a disadvantage and given the playing field here in SG, it should already try to be as levelled as possible and not tilted towards one particular party’s favour.

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