Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam (Anson): Supplementary question, Sir. Would the Prime Minister say what was the reason for the amendment to the Constitution way back in 1965, taking away the requirement for the vacancy to be filled within three months?
The Prime Minister: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, 1965 did not see such an amendment. He goes by what he reads. The Member for Anson, as a member of the learned profession, should not go by what he reads in the press. The legislation on elections was governed by laws which were promulgated in 1959, and I remember distinctly that when the then Member for Sembawang died in August of 1962, we did not have to hold an election because there was an evenly divided House of 25 Members on each side until we held the General Elections in September 1963. When we became part of Malaysia, Malaysian laws then applied to Singapore. When we were separated from Malaysia, we re-adopted the 1959 practice which does not require us to hold an election or bye-election within three months. There are variations in as many countries as there are running the first-past-the-post system.
Mr Jeyaretnam: Would the Prime Minister explain why it was necessary to go back - if that was the practice before the Malaysian Constitution came into effect -because the Malaysian Constitution contained a requirement that the vacancy be filled within three months? Secondly, how long does he expect to leave the seat vacant? The Prime Minister has spoken about dwindling constituents and the need to redraw the boundaries of constituencies. How long does he expect to leave the seat vacant? Thirdly, does he not agree, Prime Minister, that appointing a caretaker Member of Parliament is to stand the principle of parliamentary representation on its head?
The Prime Minister: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I find it tedious and tiresome to have to explain the simple elementary rules of parliamentary practice. There is no requirement. There never was a requirement to hold a bye-election, and we decided to go back to the practice of 1959 because of my experience. As I have explained, the House was evenly divided, 25 on each side, and we governed with firmness and fairness from August 1962 to September 1963, for 15 months, and we won the General Elections. I can assure the Member for Anson that we will govern with firmness and fairness between now and a date before the end of 1985. 1 have already given him the answer when the General Elections will be held, how long it will be, and if there is any further information which will be helpful to him, I will contrive to ensure that he is duly informed and given as much notice as all other Opposition parties.
Mr Jeyaretnam: I am afraid the Prime Minister has not answered my question. Does he not agree that appointing a caretaker MP when the citizen electors have a right to elect their own representative is to stand this principle of parliamentary representation on its head?
And one final question before I sit down. Did he appoint this caretaker MP as Secretary-General of his party or did he appoint him in his office as Prime Minister of the Government and, if so, under what powers?
The Prime Minister: I am standing no principle on any head. The laws are as set out in the Constitution. There is no reason why the people of Havelock should have a bye-election. There is no reason why anybody should be looking after Havelock under the Constitution. There is no reason at all. For purely grassroots purposes and to ensure that the vote will be forthcoming in the General Elections, I have thought fit, both in my capacity as Secretary-General of the PAP and in my capacity as Prime Minister, to ask Mr Lee Yiok Seng, the Member for Bukit Panjang, to nurse the constituency. And it is completely open to the Member for Anson to set up his branch there and to meet us there in the General Elections. I expect him to do so; or he is wasting the time of this House and the time of the public.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Question No. 2, Mr Jeyaretnam.
Mr Jeyaretnam: Just another supplementary question.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I thought you said that was your last question.
Mr Jeyaretnam: Well, arising out of the Prime Minister's last answer -
Mr Deputy Speaker: Well, you are getting to be a bit irrelevant to your original question, I am afraid. There are altogether 23 Questions today.
Mr Jeyaretnam: With respect, Sir, may I ask this question?
Mr Deputy Speaker: Be it the last one then.
Mr Jeyaretnam: Is the Prime Minister frightened of the result of any bye-election? He has asked us to meet him. Well, why does he not name the date?
The Prime Minister: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, there is a certain amount of make-belief which is necessary parliamentary interchange. But the plain fact is: if he expects us to take him seriously, he must comport and conduct himself on realistic assumptions. This is a Government with a secure base. It will have not the slightest compunction, when the moment is ripe, to declare all seats vacant and to meet all-comers.