I am very happy to hear that President Tony Tan has today at 4.05pm issued the Writ of Elections for a by-election at the Hougang single member constitutency. Nomination papers for candidates have to be filed by 16th May 2012 and the most likely date for elections would be the 26th of May 2012.

This is definitely good news. Many people have shown skepticism about the PM’s willingness to recognise the new reality of the post 2011 political universe in Singapore. When I blogged about the Hougang by-election in an earlier post and expressed my hope that the PM would call for the election expeditiously, there were comments left on this blog and comments from my friends that expressed serious doubt as to whether a by-election would be held at all. I feel that my hope was not misplaced. I do still feel that the current cabinet is willing to go along with the process of re-thinking its approach to governance.

This current decision to call for a by-election has to be seen positively. Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from his party on 15 Feb 2012 and his seat became vacant. The 3 month time-frame that used to exist in our former Federal Constitution would have kicked in on 15 May 2012. (This requirement does not exist in our Constitution today and the timing is discretionary.) By issuing the Writ of Election today, the President under the advise of the Cabinet has clearly acted expeditiously.

What we need in the future is for such expeditious by-elections to be a norm. If a seat becomes vacant, we need a strong political convention that it would be filled expeditiously. A 3 to 6 month timeframe is reasonable. The PM has exceeded my expectation by calling for the by-election within 3 months.

Another small step in the direction of a more democratic Singapore.

(I can imagine that there would be those that take a cynical view about this. The PAP is bound to lose in Hougang anyway. They have nothing to lose, therefore, by calling for an early election. They have tremendous political capital to gain by acting responsibly on this occasion. That would explain the early date. But, I don’t mind giving credit where it is due.)

The following is the PM’s statement in relation to the Hougang by-election:

“In the General Election in May 2011, nearly all seats were contested. Many important issues were aired and debated. In the outcome, Singaporeans gave the PAP team a clear mandate to form the Government.

Over the past year, the Government has worked hard together with Singa­poreans to implement its programme to build an inclusive Singapore, and improve the lives of all.

We set the broad directions when Parliament opened last October. In the Budget in February we followed up with effective schemes to help the poor, the elderly and the disabled. We are also upgrading our companies’ and workers’ skills, so that our economy can grow and Singaporeans can improve their incomes year by year.

However, much work remains ahead to translate good policies and programmes into actions on the ground, and to deliver the results that we all look forward to.

In January this year, news surfaced of personal indiscretions by Mr Yaw Shin Leong, the Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament for Hougang constituency. The WP first kept totally silent, then supported Mr Yaw, and then three weeks later suddenly expelled him from the party. Until now the WP has not given Singa­poreans a full and proper account of what happened, or why it acted in this way. Mr Yaw himself has said nothing, either to explain or to apologise for his behaviour, and has reportedly left the country. Both the WP and Mr Yaw have let down all those who voted for him. As a result of Mr Yaw’s expulsion from the WP, the Hougang constituency seat fell vacant.

I hope these events will not distract us from focussing on our national priorities, and building an inclusive Singa­pore. Although the Constitution does not require me to call a by-election within any fixed timeframe, I said in Parliament that I intended to call a by-election in Hougang. This morning I advised the President to issue the Writ of Election.

The by-election will give Hougang residents the chance to elect a new MP to serve them. I encourage Hougang voters to use this opportunity wisely, to elect the best candidate with commitment and integrity: someone they can rely upon to express their hopes and concerns, address their needs, and make a real difference to their lives.”