Summons filed to order PM Lee to court hearing on by-election

The Hougang by-election case takes another twist. (AP file photo)The Hougang by-election case takes another twist. (AP file photo)

In yet another twist to the court case over the Prime Minister's (PM) discretionary powers to call by-elections, the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) has filed an application to dismiss the application by Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu.

Vellama had sought the court to order the PM to call a by-election in Hougang within three months or any such time as the court deems fit. She also asked the court to declare that the PM does not have "unfettered discretion" in deciding whether and when to call by-elections.

The AGC's press release on Thursday said Vellama's application is "frivolous or vexatious and/or an abuse of the process of the court".

The AGC added: "Given the calling of the by-election on May 9, and the by-election on May 26, the AGC maintains the view that the entire substratum of the proceedings has gone and it would be an abuse of the process of court for the plaintiff to continue the proceedings."

This latest twist comes after the AGC itself had withdrawn its appeal — on 16 May - against Judge Philip Pillai's decision to allow the hearing.

Senior Counsel David Chong, representing the AGC, had also argued then that the withdrawal was because the AGC felt there is no substratum in the case brought by Vellama  since the Prime Minister has called a by-election in the Hougang constituency.

The reason given by the AGC in its latest attempt to strike out Vellama's application is the same as the one it gave in its earlier appeal against the application — that there is no substratum to Vellama's case now that the by-election has been held.

The court has yet to set a date to hear the AGC's application to have the case struck out.

Vellama, however, on Friday proceeded to file a summons to order PM Lee Hsien Loong to appear before the court to give evidence for remarks which he had made in Parliament with regards to his powers of discretion.

She also asked that PM Lee be ordered to provide the written advice tendered to him by the former and the current Attorney Generals with respect to the matter.

In her affidavit, Vellama, who is being represented by lawyer M Ravi, referred to various remarks made by PM Lee and other ministers; and also the three previous cases where parliamentary seats were vacated but for which no by-elections were held.

On 9 March, PM Lee had said that he 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" in deciding when he would call the by-election in Hougang.

On when he would call the by-election in Hougang, PM Lee said, "I will do so as soon as I have finished considering all the factors."

Vellama's affidavit then highlighted what Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, had said on 10 May — that the Hougang by-election was a strictly local matter. The People's Action Party (PAP) candidate, Desmond Choo, had also declared that only municipal matters were at stake in that by-election.

The affidavit said "it is imperative that the PM be cross-examined on these matters".

The question of whether the PM has "unfettered discretion" in calling by-election is also yet to be conclusively settled by the courts.

PM Lee had claimed that he has discretion not to hold by-elections at all. "A question arises: does the Prime Minister hold the view that he has the discretion not to call for a by-election? He must be cross-examined on this," Vellama's affidavit said.

The affidavit also cited statements made by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and other ministers in the three earlier instances in the 1980s where parliamentary seats fell vacant.

In 1983, when the Havelock seat became vacant, then PM Lee Kuan Yew said: "There is no reason why the people of Havelock should have a by-election. There is no reason why anybody should be looking after Havelock under the Constitution. There is no reason at all."

In November 1986, the Anson seat was vacated after Workers' Party MP, JB Jeyaretnam, was disqualified from holding the seat. In his answer to opposition member Chiam See Tong's query in Parliament, Minister S Dhanabalan said then: "He [JB Jeyaretnam] has been convicted of a criminal offence and fined and sent to jail. They [Anson constituents] have to learn to live with the consequences of their choice."

And in December 1986, the Geylang West seat became vacant after its MP, Teh Cheang Wan, committed suicide. Then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong explained that there would be no by-election in the ward because the government was "contemplating introducing a Bill to form Town Councils."

Lastly, PM Lee Hsien Loong said that he had taken the advice of the Attorney General before he gave his replies in Parliament on 9 March to questions about when he would call the by-election in Hougang. "And before answering today's questions," PM Lee said then, "I consulted the present Attorney General again to confirm his advice."

"His claim to discretion on the timing was, therefore, based on the legal advice of the former and current Attorney Generals," Vellama's affidavit said. "He has waived any privilege to the advice tendered and it is important to see these documents and examine whether the various claims of the Government can be borne out."

Andrew helms publichouse.sg as Editor-in-Chief. His writings have been reproduced in other publications, including the Australian Housing Journal in 2010. He was nominated by Yahoo! Singapore as one of Singapore's most influential media persons in 2011.

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