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Respecting citizen's democratic rights is an important national issue too

~by: Ghui~

In his article “The value of a by-election” (see HERE), Professor Eugene Tan states that by-elections should be called in Hougang within a reasonable time or without inordinate delay.

In response, Mr Hri Kumar Nair asserts that an MP's resignation or expulsion should not “force the Government to put aside more important national issues to focus on a by-election (see HERE).

”Mr Hri Kumar Nair further points out that Article 49 of the Constitution does not say that an election shall be "called" to fill a vacant seat but merely prescribes that the vacant seat be filled by election (see HERE).

Both Professor Eugene Tan and Mr Hri Kumar Nair have made valid arguments although Mr Hri Kumar Nair’s responses seem to have raised three very prescient issues:

  1. Hougang Single Member Constituency’s (“Hougang SMC”) right to have a legitimately elected MP;
  2. the need for robust political debate; and
  3. the government’s ability to multi-task.

Hougang’s constituents are currently being served by a roster of MPs from the Worker’s Party (“WP”). While I am certain that the WP will do its utmost to ensure that the needs of the constituents are met, democracy dictates that Hougang SMC be given the right to have an MP of its choosing. After all, it is the voting process and its consequential result that gives an MP the official legitimacy to do his or her job.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair suggests that “our parliamentary democracy is based on the principle that elections are fundamentally about voters choosing between different political parties to lead the country, rather than between individual candidates standing in a constituency.” This is surely a simplistic understanding of voting dynamics in Singapore.

Take Mr Chiam See Tong’s numerous victories for instance. Do you think the voters voted for the Singapore People’s Party or for Mr Chiam on a personal level?

Another example would be Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Even if he had resigned from the People’s  Action Party and contested as an independent candidate in the 2011 general elections (GE 2011), I can almost say for certain that he would still have won on the basis of his individual reputation.

In any election, both the contestant and the party he or she represents hold equal weight. It is therefore unrealistic to believe that Mr Yaw was chosen only on the premise of his affiliation with the WP and that his personal attributes played little or no role in his victory.

Given that the constituents of Hougang SMC chose both the WP and Mr Yaw in GE 2011, shouldn’t they be given the right to vote for someone of their choosing as soon as possible now that Mr Yaw is no longer able to represent them?

Professor Eugene Tan has asserted that the Prime Minister’s discretion to hold by-elections is not an unfettered one (see HERE). His view is supported by both Professors Thio Li-Ann and Kevin Tan (See HERE). Based on an academic interpretation of the Constitution, this would suggest that the calling of a by-election expediently is mandatory.

Secondly, Mr Hri Kumar Nair stated that “By-elections may provide interesting material for political commentators like Asst Prof Tan, but there is a time for electioneering, and a time for work, and one should never mistake one for the other.”

I do not agree with the implication that Professor Eugene Tan is confusing electioneering and work. He is merely proffering his interpretation of the Constitution and highlighting the various issues that Singaporeans should be made aware of.

Given that Hougang is a “hot seat” and “will surely generate much heat and debate across the island”, shouldn’t all Singaporeans be equipped with all information available? This would include having recourse to the rigorous debate between Professor Eugene Tan and Mr Hri Kumar Nair.

 Accountability is the catchphrase post GE 2011 and the best way to ensure accountability is to facilitate robust political debate. As Mr Hri Kumar Nair rightly stated: “we should let him (PM Lee) do his job”.  But, wouldn’t giving some weight to academic discourse and  public opinion help him do his job?

Last but not least, the business of running Singapore is surely a complex one which involves a high level of effective multi-tasking. Mr Hri Kumar Nair’s statements seem to suggest that our ruling government is not equal to that?

Besides, isn’t ensuring that its citizen’s democratic rights are respected an important national issue too?

Mr Hri Kumar Nair appears to have implied that our ruling government prioritises certain national issues over others? If this is indeed so, I am sure that Singaporeans would appreciate further clarity on how such priorities are made.