Delay in Holding a By Election in Hougang is a Violation of Our Democratic RightsPublished: 17th February 2012
We note the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday that he will consider carefully when to call a by-election for Hougang SMC and that this is because, “….there are many more important issues on the national agenda at the moment.”
Democracy is The National Agenda and nothing can ever take precedence over that. The people of Singapore’s democratic right to be represented in Parliament by representatives of their choosing must always be the overriding concern.
The people of Hougang are now without a representative. By expelling their MP and sending in other representatives from the party, the WP has taken democracy a step backwards. For the Hougang voters to be served by MPs from a neighbouring constituency for whom they did not vote is effectively abolishing election in favour of selection.
It is no surprise that the PM should think this acceptable and be in no hurry to rectify the situation but we do not believe that all the blame can be laid upon Yaw Shin Leong. MPs have marital breakdown and there are enough examples of divorced and re-married MP’s and Ministers in Parliament. Yes, the WP and the leadership who chose and mentored Yaw Shin Leong should have provided an account and also brought Yaw Shin Leong to accountability rather than giving us silence by expelling him.
However, the deprivation of an Opposition representative in Parliament through the PM’s delay in holding a by-election is an even more egregious violation of the rights to representation of the 40% of the Singapore electorate who voted for Opposition candidates in the last GE.
In a democracy the decision upon whether to call a by-election should not be the Prime Ministers’ prerogative. Singapore is not the PM’s personal fiefdom. He does have the right to decide when and whether the voters of Hougang should get to choose a new representative and when to call general elections as well as by-elections. But this right is one that was appropriated by amending the constitution. And the government’s ability to amend the Constitution at will without consultation of the people is a result of decades of unchallenged power. The solution is greater Opposition representation in Parliament not less.
The Reform Party calls upon the Prime Minister to put democracy and the Nation first. As a Nation we are advancing from a position where the government has already been called to a majority on Nomination day to one where almost every seat is hotly contested. Singaporean voters are less afraid, less apathetic, more sophisticated and less isolated. We must make sure that our processes and laws also keep up with the times and entrench the protection of democracy as a system of government.
In other advanced Nations, free and fair elections are upheld by entrusting the conduct of elections to an independent body. The independence of these election commissions, particularly in commonwealth countries, is fiercely protected. Originally Singapore’s constitution, like the Westminster one on which it is modelled, provided for a by-election to be held in a reasonable time frame once a seat fell vacant. However this was changed, presumably because the PAP feared that they would be more likely to lose seats at by-elections than at general elections and to keep certain members of the Opposition who threatened them from getting back into Parliament.
In Westminster itself the incumbent Party (that would be the Worker’s Party here) has the right to move a writ to set in place a motion for the by-election and to select the date. The government and the Prime Minister have no rights to interfere with that schedule. This gives the incumbent Party a slight advantage but also puts the matter straight back into the hands of the electorate. All sides consider this slight advantage to be fair as there can be no doubt that the people have previously voted for a Party as well as an individual.
The Reform Party calls for the government to remove the constitutional amendment giving the government discretion to keep seats vacant between general elections, to remove the PM’s discretion as to when a by-election must be called and above all to move the Elections Department out of the Prime Minister’s Office. We need to set up a totally independent Elections Commission to safeguard free and fair elections if we are ever to join the ranks of advanced Nations.
The Reform Party similarly calls on the people of Singapore who have clearly shown that they strive for democracy to keep up pressure on the government and to prevent us losing the little progress we have so far gained as a Democracy .
The Reform Party