Letter by Mr Hri in response to AP Tan's article:
Assistant Professor Eugene Tan's commentary "The value of a by-election" (Feb 20) argued that the Prime Minister does not have an unfettered discretion in deciding when to call a by-election and that the "default" position should be that a by-election should be automatic.
Those two claims ignore the law and the reason behind the law.
There is a reason the Singapore Constitution does not prescribe any time limit to call a by-election.
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.
Hence, under our system, if any Member of Parliament (MP) resigns or is expelled from his party, he loses his seat because voters had elected him as a representative of his party.
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.
It has another salutary effect: It holds political parties accountable to voters for the performance of their candidates. Parties must endeavour to field candidates who can last the term as MP.
This calls for rigorous selection to ensure that men and women of integrity are fielded and, when elected, will do their utmost to fulfil their MP responsibilities for their entire term.
If they do not or cannot, the onus is on their party to take care of residents in that constituency. The Workers' Party (WP) knows this. That is why their MPs have taken over Mr Yaw Shin Leong's duties in Hougang.
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.
Mr Lian's Facebook note to Mr Hri Kumar:
I have a few simple questions for you, regarding your article "No automatic by-election in our model of parliamentary democracy" which I hope will attract a clear answer.
Do you agree, or disagree, that Art 49 of the Constitution provides that if an MP's seat falls vacant, it SHALL be filled, i.e. the words "SHALL" are imperative.
Do you agree, or disagree, that Section 52 of the Interpretation Act says that when something is to be done but no time is prescribed, the act is to be done "with all convenient speed".
I also have a comment on your article.
Your conception of Singapore's Parliamentary Democracy is that 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.
I fully agree with you that an important aspect of our system of democracy is about choosing Government.
However, nonetheless, our system is ALSO fundamentally based on a Parliamentary model, whereby each constitutency elects an MP and MP derives power and legitimacy from their Constituents, and whereby the PM is the MP who enjoys the confidence of MPs.
I agree with you that an election need not be "immediate".
But I would not agree that the PM has discretion "whether" to call a by-election.
In my view, he does not in law. He must call an election with "all convenient speed" (whatever that means) or within a "reasonable time".
If you believe otherwise and argue that PM has a completely unfettered discretion, I agree with Prof Eugene Tan and disagree with you, with respect.
In any case, I hope that PM considers that a by-election should be called within some reasonable time. As I said, this need not be immediate.
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