In Parliament yesterday (25 Mar), Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean pointed out that it is unconstitutional to delay elections in the absence of a state of emergency.
Former presidential candidate and Progress Singapore Party chief Dr Tan Cheng Bock has earlier opined that the upcoming General Election (GE) could be delayed in view of the present COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. He suggested delaying GE in the event that the COVID-19 situation in Singapore does not ease by Apr 2021, which is the deadline for Singapore to hold the next GE.
Teo said he had asked the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) for advice on whether an election can be delayed with the creation of a caretaker government formed by the President. “The advice of the AGC is, to delay an election beyond the required date in such a manner is unconstitutional,” Teo said. The only exception to the rule, Mr Teo said, is when a state of emergency is declared.
He stressed that it is unhelpful to “mislead people into thinking that such an option exists to put off elections indefinitely and to have the President “form a new government when this goes against the Constitution”.
“To suggest this shows a disregard for or a lack of understanding of the Constitution. Putting forward constitutionally unworkable proposals at a time of serious national crisis can only confuse and mislead Singaporeans to the detriment of Singapore and Singaporeans,” he added.
Teo also noted that there is no legal basis or practical need exists to necessitate the formation of a caretaker government created by the President even in a state of emergency if the incumbent Cabinet remains in office.
“Even if there is a caretaker government under a state of emergency, it would by definition be a caretaker. It would be hobbled by the fact that it lacks the explicit mandate of voters and would therefore not be in a position to take major decisions on behalf of Singaporeans,” said Teo. “To steer the country through the COVID-19 crisis, a caretaker government would not have the mandate to do so. So how can this be in the best interest of the country and our people?”
SingFirst Tan Jee Say responds
Responding to Teo’s speech in Parliament, SingFirst chief Tan Jee Say who is a former presidential candidate himself, disagreed that delaying GE beyond the required date is unconstitutional. In fact, Jee Say pointed out on his Facebook page that the Constitution does provide for the President to declare a national emergency “whereby the security or economic life of Singapore is threatened”.
He added that the existing Constitution provides for proclamation of emergency by the President for 6 months.
“COVID-19 threatens our economic life especially when it drags on till April 2021 and qualifies as reason to declare a state of emergency and postpone the elections. As I have previously said in my FB post of 21 March 2020 – ‘this is what a responsible government should do rather than hold an election and endanger the lives of Singaporeans’,” he said.
Examining Article 150 (Proclamation of Emergency) of the Constitution, it is noted that while the proclamation of emergency is in force, Parliament can continue to make laws with respect to any matter, if it appears to Parliament that the law is “required by reason of the emergency”. That can of course involve delaying the deadline of GE.
Also according to Article 150, any authoritative orders put into effect or any law made during the emergency period shall be void at the expiration of the emergency period. In other words, they are meant to be temporary measures to tide through the emergency period.