No requirement to call immediate by-election in Hougang: Hri Kumar Nair

There is no requirement to call for an immediate by-election in Hougang SMC even though the seat is now vacant, says MP Hri Kumar Nair. (Yahoo! photo)
There is no requirement to call for an immediate by-election in Hougang SMC even though the seat is now vacant, says MP Hri Kumar Nair. (Yahoo! photo)

Member of Parliament (MP) for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Hri Kumar Nair said Friday that there is "no requirement" for a by-election to be called immediately in Hougang Single Member Constituency, after its former MP Yaw Shin Leong was dismissed by the Workers' Party (WP).

In a letter to the TODAY newspaper published on Friday, Hri Kumar said that when a parliamentary seat falls vacant, the government should not be forced "to put aside more important national issues to focus on a by-election", unless the vacancy left behind "affects its mandate".

He was responding to a commentary published in the same paper on Monday by nominated MP Eugene Tan, an assistant law professor, which pushed for a by-election to be called "without an inordinate delay", and that it should be automatic, although there are no fixed rules on timing.

Tan argued that even though the decision to call a by-election lies with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, it "does not extend to his having an unfettered discretion to delay the calling of a by-election indefinitely". He also said the government should explain its reasons for choosing not to call for one in a reasonable amount of time, as it did in 1987, when it was considering re-delineating the vacated seats of Anson and Geylang West.

In his reply to Tan's argument, Hri Kumar, who chairs the government parliamentary committee for law and home affairs, said Tan's sentiments "ignore(d) the law and the reason behind the law".

"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," he wrote.

"Hence, under our system, if any 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," he added.

In his letter, Hri Kumar noted that not imposing a fixed timeline along which a by-election should take place helps to hold political parties accountable to their voters for the performance of their candidates fielded, and ensure that they can last their terms as MPs.

"If they do not or cannot, the onus is on their party to take care of residents in that constituency. The Workers' Party knows this. That is why their MPs have taken over Mr Yaw Shin Leong's duties in Hougang," he pointed out.

Drawing a comparison to the parliamentary system in the UK, where MPs are allowed to change parties while retaining their seats during their terms, by-elections must be held promptly when a seat falls vacant because the MP is "the fundamental element of their system".

He added that the WP was only able to force Yaw to leave his Hougang seat by expelling him from the party because it operates under Singapore's parliamentary 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," wrote Hri Kumar. "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."

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