Anson was a long time ago. CV Devan Nair vacated his seat in Parliament before his elevation to the position of President. J B Jeyaretnam participated in the by-election for the Anson constituency and recorded that historic win against the PAP. 1981 seems like a distant memory now. The PAP stranglehold on Parliament had been punctured. There was a lone voice catapulted into the legislature willing to champion the cause of the people against the mammoth PAP government.
We had not progressed that much from then. At the very best (before 2011), the opposition managed 4 seats in Parliament. But, for the most part, it was just 2 seats. It was, therefore, fitting that last year (being the 30th anniversary of the Anson victory) another milestone was crossed in Singapore’s electoral history. The fall of a GRC was a big psychological boost for the opposition and its supporters. It has also ushered in an unprecedented boldness and a willingness express views fearlessly.

The GRC itself was one of the methods by which the ruling party managed to keep the opposition at bay. There is no doubt in my mind that if the GRC system had never been introduced, the PAP would have lost more seats in earlier elections. (My views on the mechanics of domination exercised through the GRC….. )

Throughout this period from the 1980s to the present, the PAP has also been careful to avoid by-elections. To me, the most disappointing moment was when the Bukit Batok MP, Ong Chit Chung, passed away. There was a conflict between the Constitution and a statutory provision and in my view the Constitution ought to prevail. They made no Constitutional amendment and they just gave elaborate excuses and convinced the masses that no by-election was necessary. (I had blogged about this before…. ) In the end, Bukit Batok went without a member of parliament for nearly 3 years (July 2008 to May 2011).

And now, we have an opposition MP that has vacated his seat. A by-election has to be called. The problem is that our laws are silent as to the time limit for calling a by-election. Pursuant to the Constitution, when an MP is sacked by his Party, the MP’s seat falls vacant. Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, the President has to issue a Writ of Election. No time limit is set for this. Under the Constitution, this is one of those powers of the President that does not come within his discretion and it is for the Cabinet to advise him. The problem now is the PM seems to think that there are pressing national issues and so he seems to suggest that a by-election is not within him immediate focus.

This is an area that has to be legislated. I hope that this issue is not left as a mere discretion and a certain timeline be set for by elections in the future. We could do it by legislation or if our politicians are mature enough a multi-party code can be devised where political parties can agree to hold by elections within a fixed time frame when there is a casual vacancy.

It is totally untenable to leave the question of a by-election hanging in the air and in fact it is irresponsible to let Hougang residents hanging in there without a member of parliament.