The PM has given his official response to the Hougang by-election issue. The following is the relevant part of his statement in Parliament:
“The Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC) seat is vacant after the Workers’ Party expelled Mr Yaw Shin Leong, following several weeks of media reports on Mr Yaw’s personal indiscretions. I intend to call a by-election in Hougang to fill this vacancy. However, I have not yet decided on the timing of the by-election. In deciding on the timing, I 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.”
This is the proper response that we expect from our Prime Minister. I believe that if this was the first reponse from him when the news of the vacancy in Hougang broke, there would have been very little noise from the public. For sure, there would have been pressure for the by-election to be held sooner rather than later. But, the kind of loss of political capital that the PAP has arguably experienced as a result of brandishing technical arguments through semantics could have been avoided.
It is simple. The Constitution mandates a by-election. There is no 3 month time limit. It is the PM’s discretion. He just needs to exercise it within a reasonable time. The PM has pretty much stated that this is the legal position and I have no qualms with that. All those people that were arguing about whether the PM can refuse to hold a by-election can crawl back into the woodwork. The PM has clearly acknowledged that he has to call for a by-election. It is a question of when.
“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 timeframe.”
And now we wait. My guess is May/June.