Bid to hold by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee rejected by High Court

Singapore Supreme Court (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
Singapore Supreme Court (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

An application to hold a by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC in the wake of last year’s Presidential Election was rejected by Justice Chua Lee Ming in the High Court on Monday (9 April).

The petition had been filed by Marsiling-Yew Tee resident and author Dr Wong Souk Yee, who is also assistant treasurer for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

Following Halimah Yacob’s resignation as Member of Parliament for Marsiling-Yew Tee last year in order to run for president, SDP filed a lawsuit last September calling for a by-election in the ward. It maintains that the three remaining MPs – Lawrence Wong, Ong Teng Koon and Alex Yam – should vacate their seats in order to facilitate the process.

The SDP later withdrew from the suit as the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) maintained that the party had no standing in the issue.

Justice Chua noted that Dr Wong faced an “immediate hurdle” to her application: namely, that an by-election cannot be held unless the remaining MPs in the GRC vacate their seats. Article 49 (1) requires a by-election to be held only when all the seats are vacated, he added.

“There is no basis in law that would allow me to compel the remaining MPs to resign,” said Justice Chua. He noted that voters in Marsiling-Yew Tee have not lost their right to be represented in Parliament: they have continued to be represented by the GRC team, “albeit comprising one MP less”.

Justice Chua granted the AGC’s application for Dr Wong to pay $10,000 in costs plus $764.35 disbursements.

Issues in the case

Central to the case: differing interpretations of Article 49(1) of the Singapore Constitution and Article 24(2A) of the Parliamentary Elections Act.

Article 49(1) states, “Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.”

Arguing for the applicant, veteran lawyer Peter Low had cited Article 49(1), claiming that it does not make a distinction between a Single-Member Constituency (SMC) and a Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Arguing for the government, Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair cited Article 24 (2A) of the Parliamentary Elections Act. This states, “In respect of any group representation constituency, no writ shall be issued under subsection (1) for an election to fill any vacancy unless all the Members for that constituency have vacated their seats in Parliament.”

Noting that 49(1) was promulgated before the GRC system came into place in 1988, Nair maintained that “different rules” apply to GRCs. It would be unfair as well to force the remaining Marsiling-Yew Tee MPs to vacate their seats for reasons unrelated to their conduct or circumstances within their control, he added.

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