Category: Constitutional principles

Hougang By-election Case: What Court Decision on By-election Reveals

A poll card issued for the 2011 general election

A poll card issued for the 2011 general election. (Photograph by Jacklee [public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via the Wikimedia Commons.)

Dr Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU

THE COURT OF APPEAL’S judgment of 5 July in Vellama d/o Marie Muthu v Attorney-General[1] – popularly known as the Hougang by-election case – shows that the Court sees its role as policing the margins rather than involving itself in the heart of politics.

The decision came as a surprise to those used to a judicial stance that is fairly deferential towards the Government. It is one of only a handful of cases in which the courts have not accepted the Government’s interpretation of the Constitution.

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A Legal Backgrounder on By-elections

Yaw Shin Leong, 5 May 2011

Yaw Shin Leong at a Workers’ Party rally for the 2011 general election, 5 May 2011. (By Huaiwei. CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), via Wikimedia Commons.)

Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU

THE EXPULSION of Yaw Shin Leong, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC), from the Workers’ Party has once again thrust the issue of the Government’s policy on by-elections into the limelight. This was last discussed in Parliament in August 2008 following the death of Dr Ong Chit Chung, MP for Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Article 46 of the Constitution provides that when MPs are ousted from the political parties they stood for in an election, their seats are vacated. Parliament has final say on the matter. On 22 February, Mr Michael Palmer, the Speaker of Parliament, announced that since Mr Yaw had indicated he does not wish to challenge his expulsion, his seat became vacant on 14 February.

During the Parliamentary debate four years ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the constitutional provision – often known as the “anti-hopping” clause – ensured a stable government. He recalled the tumultuous years in the Legislative Assembly – the predecessor to Singapore’s post-independence Parliament. In 1961, 13 People’s Action Party MPs were able to leave their party and cross the floor, decimating the Government’s majority. Continue reading

High Stakes: GRC and the 2011 Singapore GE

Kevin Tan
Adjunct Professor of Law
National University of Singapore

I noted in my 1992 article, ‘The Constitutional Implications of the 1991 General Elections’ (1992) 13 Sing. L Rev 26 that the GRC system could cut both ways. While a strong personality (such as a respected minister) can waltz into Parliament with 4 or 5 silhouettes, the stakes can be quite high. This is why it would be unwise for the PAP to grow the GRC beyond a certain point. The election saw the revival of the 4-member GRC (albeit only in 2 constituencies – Moulmein-Kallang; and Holland-Bukit Timah), and a reduction of the number of 6-member GRCs. This indicates the PAP’s concern that should the scales tip against them, they could well end up losing 6 seats in one swoop. Continue reading

Short reflections on the 2011 General Elections

Thio Li-ann
Professor of Law
National University of Singapore

1. In the 1990s, then PM Goh Chok Tong said that the GRC scheme was “theoretically neutral,” even if the PAP had in practice won all seats. 2011 GE finally demonstrates this in practice, with the obvious repercussions for future electoral strategies. Not least, that the GRC is not a sure-fire way for PAP self-renewal, witness, Ong Ke Yung.

The late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (Source: AP)

2. Also in the 1990s, I remember Wong Kan Seng telling NCMP JB Jeyaretnam that he was in by the grace of the government. But now that we are talking about a couple of hundred votes dividing winners and losers in Potong Pasir, Joo Chiat and East Coast, the “mandate” of NCMPs are stronger. Witness, for example, Lina Chiam’s nod to the wishes of the voters for her to take the NCMP seat. Continue reading