Raeesah Khan resignation: What happens to the Workers' Party MP's seat?

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SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel
Sengkang MP Raeesah Khan. (SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel)

SINGAPORE — What happens when a Member of Parliament (MP) in Singapore resigns?

Sengkang Group Representative Constituency (GRC) MP Raeesah Khan resigned on Tuesday night (30 November), following her admission last month that she had lied to Parliament about accompanying an alleged sexual assault victim to make a police report. 

In her resignation letter to Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, Raeesah said that she will continue to assist with the Committee of Privileges in its investigation into her breach of parliamentary privileges.

Before Raeesah's resignation, there have been several instances of Singapore lawmakers vacating their parliamentary seats during their term.

In general, should a parliamentary seat fall vacant in between general elections, the Constitution of Singapore obliges the Prime Minister to call a by-election, unless a general election is going to be held in the near future. 

However, a by-election need only be called within a "reasonable time", and the Prime Minister has the discretion to determine when it should be held.

Furthermore, a by-election in a GRC need only be called if all the MPs vacate their seats. This was reaffirmed by the Court of Appeal in 2018, when it rejected an application to hold a by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, following Halimah Yacob’s resignation in order to run for president.

This means that Sengkang GRC will continue to be served by the three remaining Workers' Party (WP) MPs: He Ting Ru, Jamus Lim and Louis Chua.

Here are some instances of MPs resigning or stepping down during their parliamentary terms:

Halimah Yacob (2017)

Halimah Yacob stepped down from her position as an MP in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC to run for the presidency in 2017, which she won unopposed. Choa Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad assumed the role of adviser to Marsiling-Yew Tee following her departure.

David Ong (2016)

The last by-election in Singapore was held in 2016, when Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency's (SMC) incumbent MP, the People's Action Party's (PAP) David Ong, resigned citing personal reasons and having admitted to committing a "personal indiscretion".

The by-election pitted PAP's Murali Pillai against Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Pillai won with 61.2 per cent of the votes.

Michael Palmer (2013)

Former Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer of the PAP resigned in 2012 due to his admission of an extramarital affair. On the advice of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, a by-election for Palmer's Punggol East SMC seat was called by then-President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

The by-election in January 2013 was contested in a four-way fight by WP's Lee Li Lian, PAP's Koh Poh Koon, Reform Party's Kenneth Jeyaretnam and Singapore Democratic Alliance's Desmond Lim. Lee won with 54.7 per cent of the votes.

Yaw Shin Leong (2012)

WP's Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from the party, after he failed to explain several indiscretions in his private life to the party, including an alleged extramarital affair with a fellow party member.

As a result, his Hougang SMC parliamentary seat was declared vacant by then-Speaker Palmer, and a by-election called. WP's Png Eng Huat and PAP's Desmond Choo contested the seat in May 2012, with Png winning with 62.08 per cent of the votes.

Devan Nair (1981)

Incumbent Anson SMC MP Devan Nair stepped down in 1981 to become the third President of Singapore, and a by-election was called for the vacant seat in October that year.

The by-election saw a three-way fight among PAP's Pang Kim Hin, WP's J.B. Jeyaretnam, and Harbans Singh of the now-defunct United People's Front. Jeyaretnam emerged the winner with 51.93 per cent of the votes, marking the first time since Singapore's independence in 1965 that a PAP candidate was defeated in an election for a parliamentary seat.

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