Legal provision needed to vacate MPs from their seats, says Court

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Constitution does not require rest of MPs in GRC to resign when one does, notes Justice Chua

The question of whether sitting MPs can be forced to vacate their seats in Parliament - when only one spot has been left empty in their GRC - took centre stage yesterday during a legal challenge that called for a by-election to be held in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) assistant treasurer Wong Souk Yee had applied to the High Court for it after Madam Halimah Yacob resigned as an MP to run in last September's presidential election.

Dr Wong's lawyer Peter Low, in making his case asked for the three remaining MPs of the GRC - Mr Lawrence Wong, Mr Alex Yam and Mr Ong Teng Koon - to vacate their seats and then for a by-election to be held.

If a by-election could not be ordered, Mr Low said, the Parliamentary Elections Act should be interpreted such that all MPs of the GRC have to leave their seats when one or more seats has been left empty, or when only one of the remaining MPs is a minority candidate.

He cited Article 49 (1) of the Constitution, which states that when "the seat of a Member... has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election".

But Justice Chua Lee Ming noted that the Constitution does not go so far as to require the rest of the MPs in a GRC to vacate their seats in such a situation.

"Unless you can force the rest of the members to resign, how do these vacancies arise?" he asked, referring to the vacancies needed for a by-election to be called.

"Surely, there must be some legal provision for that?"

Mr Low noted that in 1992, a by-election was called for Marine Parade GRC.

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair said all the MPs in that GRC had resigned voluntarily and there was no choice but to call for a by-election.

"There has to be a power to compel the sitting MPs to vacate their seats before an election can be called," he added.

He also said that in a 1988 parliamentary debate on the aim of the GRC system, Parliament noted that even when one MP steps down, the others will continue to represent voters.

Referring to arguments raised by then deputy prime minister Goh Chok Tong, Mr Nair said a by-election would not be called when one or more members of a GRC vacates his seat.

If a by-election could be called in such an instance, it would allow an MP to hold the others in the GRC to ransom by threat of resignation, he said.

Referring to Article 46 of the Constitution, which spells out the circumstances in which a seat may become vacant, Mr Nair said: "All these provisions have to deal with the conduct of the MP himself, where he misbehaves or absents himself... matters within his control, or which affect him personally."

What Mr Low is asking for, argued Mr Nair, is for the court to "legislate other grounds".

The SDP pulled out of the legal challenge last November, but Dr Wong, a resident in the GRC, remained as sole plaintiff.

Judgment on the case will be delivered at a later date.

Singapore Politics