Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will call for by-elections in Hougang.
This is PM Lee's full reply in Parliament to PAP MP Christopher de Souza's question on a by-election in Hougang:
The Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC) seat is vacant after the Workers' Party expelled Mr Yaw Shin Leong, following several weeks of media reports on Mr Yaw's personal indiscretions. I intend to call a by-election in Hougang to fill this vacancy. However, I have not yet decided on the timing of the by-election. In deciding on the timing, I will take into account all relevant factors, including the well being of Hougang residents, issues on the national agenda, as well as the international backdrop which affects our prosperity and security.
As for the legal question of whether and when I must call a by-election, an application has been filed in court concerning this, so the matter is now sub judice, i.e. under the consideration of the court. While MPs enjoy parliamentary immunity in this House, our parliamentary convention is that we do not talk about matters which are sub judice, for good reason.
I can, however, remind Members that Parliament debated this issue extensively in 2008, when two NMPs moved a motion proposing to require the Prime Minister to call a by-election within three months of a seat falling vacant. I participated in that debate, and stated the Government's position fully, after taking the advice of the Attorney-General. I consulted the present Attorney-General again to confirm his advice before answering today's question. Let me summarise what I said in 2008 about the Constitutional position.
Article 49 of the Constitution states that when a seat falls vacant it shall be filled by election. In an SMC, a seat falls vacant when the MP vacates his office, for example when he is expelled from his political party, resigns his seat, or passes away. The timing of the by-election is at the discretion of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is not obliged to call a by-election within any fixed timeframe.
This absence of any stipulated time frame is the result of a deliberate decision by Parliament to confer on the Prime Minister the discretion to decide when to fill a Parliamentary vacancy. Then-Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew explained this when he moved the Constitutional amendment in December 1965:
"[This amendment] revokes a clause which was introduced into the State Constitution of Singapore when it entered Malaysia.
Members in this House will know that there was no such injunction of holding a by-election within three months in our previous Constitution. We resisted this particular condition being imposed upon the State Constitution at the time we entered Malaysia, but our representations were not accepted because Malaysia insisted on uniformity of our laws with the other States in the Federation and with the Federal Constitution itself.
Since we are no longer a part of the Federal whole, for reasons which we find valid and valuable as a result of our own experience of elections and of government in Singapore, we have decided that this limitation should no longer apply."
The Constitution therefore reflects a political philosophy that emphasises stable government, and the view that in elections voters are primarily choosing between political parties to be given the mandate to govern the country, rather than between individual candidates to become MPs. We have kept the Constitutional provision because the considerations for enacting it in 1965 remain relevant today.
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