The pot calling the kettle black

It’s heartening to read that our PM has only claimed discretion to the timing with which to call for a by-election, not discretion to whether or not to call for a by-election [1]. This differs distinctly from the proposition made by MP Hri Kumar who said that it is entirely up to the prime minister to decide whether to fill a vacant seat through general election or through by-election [2].

If the main purpose of Article 49 is to say there is no need for a by-election, just wait till the next general election, then we wouldn’t need Article 49 for even without Article 49, a vacant seat would be filled by the next general election. That kind of Article 49 wouldn’t deserve a place in the constitution. Article 49 should necessarily state the additional step that must take place in the event that a seat becomes vacant. That additional step shouldn’t be the usual step which is the general election but should be something over and above the general election which we all know is the by-election. Therefore, Article 49 essentially calls for a by-election, not ask to wait for the next general election.

PM Lee also stressed the constitution’s political philosophy of electing political parties to govern the country rather than electing individuals to become MPs [3]. But he missed out the important constitutional philosophy of having elected MPs vote for bills in parliament. It is the MPs’ vote for bills that legitimises those bills. The government of the day cannot unilaterally decide bills without the consent of the MPs who in turn are deciding on behalf of their constituents. MPs therefore serve an important constitutional role of holding the government of the day accountable. To deny the people of their MPs is to deny their constitutional right of having someone in parliament to vote for their interests.

PM Lee also pushed the blame for the current situation in Hougang to the Workers’ Party by saying that the latter caused it by expelling Mr Yaw [4]. If PM Lee blames the Workers’ Party for expelling Mr Yaw, does he therefore think that the blameless thing to do is to keep Mr Yaw? That would be uncharacteristic of PM Lee considering his response to the last minute dropping of Steve Tan during the last general election [5].

Back then, PM Lee said that as awkward as it were, they just had to go through with the last-minute change and explain to people that something has come up. PM Lee also said he was glad that Steve Tan decided to drop out of the contest in the interest of PAP. Although the two cases are slightly different, the basic issue is the same, rumours leading to a candidate / politician being dropped. If PM Lee supported dropping Steve Tan during the last election and was happy with it, there is no reason why he wouldn’t be similarly happy and supportive of dropping Mr Yaw if placed in the Worker Party’s shoes. Isn’t this another case of the pot calling the kettle black?

[1] Straits Times, 10 Mar 2012, ‘Voters back parties, not individual MPs’

‘Article 49 of the Constitution states that when a seat falls vacant, it shall be filled by-election. In an SMC, a seat falls vacant when the MP vacates his office, for example when he is expelled from his political party, resigns his seat, or passes away. The timing of the by-election is at the discretion of the prime minister. The prime minister is not obliged to call a by-election within any fixed time frame.’

[2] Today, 29 Feb 2012, We should le PM do his job

Contrary to what he wrote, Article 49 of the Constitution does not say that an election shall be “called” to fill a vacant seat. It simply prescribes that the vacant seat “shall be filled by election”.

Whether it is a general election or a by-election, and more importantly, when that election is to be called, is entirely at the discretion of the Prime Minister. There is no obligation to call an immediate by-election.

[3] Straits Times, 10 Mar 2012, ‘Voters back parties, not individual MPs’

‘The Constitution therefore reflects a political philosophy that emphasises stable government, and the view that in elections voters are primarily choosing between political parties to be given the mandate to govern the country, rather than between individual candidates to become MPs.’

[4] Straits Times, 10 Mar 2012, Timing of by-election is for the PM to decide

She also wanted to know if he does not agree that there is ‘an under-representation of the Hougang voters in this House’.

He replied: ‘I do not know that. If that is an issue, I would have thought it is something which the Workers’ Party would have considered before deciding to expel Mr Yaw Shin Leong.’

The Constitution is clear on how by-elections are called and it has been debated in the House, he noted.

‘So if we are in this situation today, it is because the Workers’ Party has caused this situation to happen knowing the consequences.’

[5] Straits Times, 28 Apr 2011, PM explains why Steve Tan dropped out

He said that the party and Mr Tan could have ‘pretended there was no problem and just carried on’.

‘But Steve Tan is honourable, we are (as well), and we decided that awkward as it is, we just had to go through with this and made the last-minute change and explain to people: I’m sorry, something has come up…we have had to make a change.’

Separately, Labour chief Lim Swee Say said Mr Tan was put up as a candidate ‘based on our knowledge of his track records over the last 10 years’.

On Mr Tan’s decision to drop out of the contest, he said: ‘I’m glad he took the decision before the GE. I suppose he came to the decision in the interest of the party, in the interest of the voters. I take consolation that we have responsible people who put the bigger voter interest ahead of personal interest.’

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2 Responses to “The pot calling the kettle black”

  1. auntielucia Says:

    Friend, you wrote:
    “Although the two cases are slightly different, the basic issue is the same, rumours leading to a candidate / politician being dropped.”

    Think you highlight the wrong point. The cases are massively different. If I remember correctly, the rumours in the first instance alleged sexual harassment; the rumours in the 2nd alleged serial infidelity.

    In our courts, if the first instant is proven, it’s punishable by law. In the second instant, the worst that could happen is divorce. It won’t come to that as the wife is standing by her man. 😛

  2. anon Says:

    Very well argued.

    The inevitable conclusion is the govt’s stand as represented first by MP Nair, a senior counsel and later by PM Lee himself seem to be an infamous bag of balls, to put it bluntly.

    Evidence that it was party’s interest rather than national interest that came first is overwhelming.

    Can they be censured in parliament for attempting to mislead parliament and the people?

    Or, are they getting away simply because of the party’s huge majority? it is unlikely that if it could be voted on any govt MP would have the courage of conviction to do the right thing by the people. In which case then, all the govt MPs are co-conspirators!

    Disgraceful, indeed.

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