We should let PM do his job




  Hri Kumar

IN HIS letter “Representation is a cardinal principle in our democracy, too” (Feb 28), Assistant Professor Eugene Tan ascribed to me arguments which I did not make, while ignoring the arguments which I did.

I did not say that Members of Parliament, elections or voting rights are not important, or suggest that the calling of a by-election is “an act of benevolence by the Government”.

I dealt only with Asst Prof Tan’s original, misconceived argument that a by-election is “automatic” or the “default” position in law.

Contrary to what he wrote, Article 49 of the Constitution does not say that an election shall be “called” to fill a vacant seat. It simply prescribes that the vacant seat “shall be filled by election”.

Whether it is a general election or a by-election, and more importantly, when that election is to be called, is entirely at the discretion of the Prime Minister. There is no obligation to call an immediate by-election.

Asst Prof Tan then protested that the PM cannot exercise his discretion capriciously. No one ever suggested he can.

But this is a far cry from Asst Prof Tan’s original assertion that a by-election is “automatic” and that the PM must explain if he fails to call one immediately. That is clearly a proposition not founded in law.

Asst Prof Tan acknowledges that our Parliamentary model “evolved” from the United Kingdom model. He therefore accepts that the two models are not the same.

But he glosses over the fundamental differences between the two, which explain why by-elections are not “automatic” in Singapore.

These are not new arguments. In August 2008, two Nominated MPs proposed a motion in Parliament that, amongst other things, mandated by-elections be called within three months from the date an MP vacates his seat.

The debate discussed in detail the differences between the UK model and ours, and the historical reasons for them.

In the end, the Workers’ Party voted with the People’s Action Party MPs to defeat the motion (after trying unsuccessfully to amend the motion to call for the Group Representation Constituency system to be abolished).

Asst Prof Tan also repeated his earlier argument that a Hougang by-election will not be a massive distraction nationally because it only involves 25,000 voters.

But Hougang is a hot seat. The former WP MP left in dramatic circumstances: Exposed by the Internet, first supported by his own colleagues and then expelled by them, and now AWOL without as much as a word to his constituents.

The by-election will surely generate much heat and debate across the island.

By-elections may provide interesting material for political commentators like Asst Prof Tan, but there is a time for electioneering, and a time for work, and one should never mistake one for the other.

The law prescribes that it is for the PM to determine when elections should be called, and we should let him do his job.

*addition ref*
PAP MP in sharp exchange with new NMP over Hougang by-election

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