Hougang resident files court application for PM Lee to call by-election

An Hougang resident filed a court application requesting PM Lee to call for a by-election. (Yahoo! file photo)
An Hougang resident filed a court application requesting PM Lee to call for a by-election. (Yahoo! file photo)

An Hougang resident has filed a high court application on Friday requesting the Prime Minister to call for a by-election in the ward within three months.

The 42-year old part-time cleaner, Vellama D/O Marie Muthu, filed the application via her lawyer M Ravi.

The application called for the grant of declaration that the Prime Minister does not possess the "unfettered discretion to decide when to announce by-elections in Hougang SMC and must do so within three months or within such reasonable time as this Honorable Court deems fit".

The affidavit also stated the plaintiff be granted a mandatory order enjoining the prime minister to advise the president to issue a writ of election mandating by-elections in the single member constituency.

Since Worker's Party's Yaw Shin Leong's expulsion from the party on 14 February over rumours of extra-marital affairs, the seat has been vacant. His seat was officially declared vacant on 28 February by the Speaker of Parliament after Yaw decided not to appeal the decision.

Vellama is the sole breadwinner for her family of two daughters and an alcoholic husband deemed unfit for work. She is also supporting her 77-year old wheelchair bound mother and her 52-year old diabetic sister. All are dependent on her meager monthly salary of $300.

She is receiving financial assistance from the Community Development Council (CDC).
Vellama previously voted for Yaw and was seeking his assistance to help her family. She added that "I no longer have the opportunity to do that because Hougang does not have an MP".

She expressed shock at PM Lee's response "that 'other issues on our national agenda' are more important than allowing me to exercise my right to elect a representative of my choice".

Vellama said that her frustrations are borne out of the urgency for her problems to be addressed, and she feels like a "second class citizen" having to rely on other MPs at the moment.

She had been experiencing difficulties paying her monthly mortgage installments and said the banks had threatened her with foreclosure.

What now for the MP-less Hougang SMC?

According to CNA, PM Lee said the day after Yaw's expulsion that there is no fixed time within which he must call for a by-election. He further said that there are other issues on the national agenda then. His statement was made before Budget 2012.

Vellama questioned, "Why am I denied this opportunity? Why is it taking so long for the PM to decide on this? Why is it that the PM is even saying, as I am advised, that he even has the power not to call a by-election when he says to the media that he would consider carefully 'whether…to hold a by-election'?"

Debate on what the Constitution says

What followed was a heated public exchange between Nominated Member of Parliament, Assistant Professor Eugene Tan, and People's Action Party (PAP) MP, Hri Kumar Nair.

Tan expressed in his article published in the Today newspaper that while there is no fixed timeline to call for a by-election, PM Lee has to call it within "reasonable time" and without "inordinate delay".

Shortly after on 1 March, the Workers' Party also urged the prime minister to call for a by-election. Party leader Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim said in the Straits Times that the decision to call for a by-election is "not optional" as dictated by the Constitution.

Bridget Welsh, Associate Professor in Political Science at Singapore Management University (SMU) said of this case, "This case brings the by-election issue to the courts, widening the call for representation and illustrates a broadening of the increasing contestation for political rights in Singapore to the courts."

"This legal initiative reflects the reality of new politics in Singapore, where citizens not only expect engagement but are angered by an approach that shows disrespect to their voices," she added.

Welsh said there are four possibilities for this case's outcome: (1) A by-election is called and the legal case is withdrawn, (2) Questions will be raised about judicial independence if the People's Action Party delays calling the by-election, (3) the case is thrown out "for some reason" or buried, and (4) the legal case is won and "PAP faces another public defeat and goes into a by-election further weakened".

There is a definite dilemma for the Prime Minister now, but Welsh warned the longer PAP delays calling a by-election, "the more it sends a signal that it does not respect voters in Singapore, particularly those in Hougang".

She added that "Questions may be asked whether the PAP is afraid of facing the polls again, which will weaken the perception of the government."

Former PAP candidate for Hougang SMC Desmond Choo, the Prime Minister's Office and Workers' Party have yet to respond to Yahoo! Singapore's queries.

Related articles:

1. Hougang residents chould seek High Court clarification: experts
2. Constitution demands a by-election in Hougang: experts
3. No requirement to call immediate by-election in Hougang: Hri Kumar Nair