Mdm Halimah Yacob has resigned from her positions as Speaker of Parliament and Member of Parliament for Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC) today, following an official announcement yesterday that she intends to contest the upcoming Presidential election that has been reserved for candidates from the Malay community.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong accepted her resignation and added that he would be appointing leaders to her former roles – this includes her role as an elected MP. The PM said that he would be appointing a grassroots leader to replace her:
“I accept your resignation from the People’s Action Party. Rest assured that I will soon appoint replacements to the various responsibilities that you have relinquished, and in particular a Grassroots Advisor to succeed you in Marsiling, so that the residents will continue to be well taken care of.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Chan Chun Sing, also confirmed earlier this year that no by-election will be called if a minority candidate in a GRC resigned to contest the Presidential Election.
Mdm Halimah was fielded and elected as the minority candidate for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.
The SDP has taken issue with the Government’s decision to not call for a by-election. Calling the decision “an abuse of the system” and one that “makes a mockery of the general elections,” the party released a statement on its website, asserting that it is exploring legal remedies to compel the Government to call for a by-election.
The opposition party said in their statement:
“To be clear, Ms Halimah’s resignation is a deliberate and calculated ploy by the PAP to remove one of its MPs in order that she may stand for another election. The PAP cannot be allowed to vacate elected Parliamentary seats just to maximise its electoral chances for another office. It is an abuse of the system and makes a mockery of the general elections.
If the PAP insists on taking such a step, it must abide by the rule of law and call for a by-election. It cannot have its cake and eat it too.
Minister Chan Chun Sing says, however, that no by-election will be held if Ms Halimah were to resign from her seat. Such a unilateral and unconstitutional measure runs counter to the concept of the GRC system and must be challenged.
To this end, the SDP will actively explore legal remedies to ensure that the PAP does not willy-nilly change rules or interpret the law to suit its own political ends by calling for a by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee.”
The party also put forth that the fact that Mdm Halimah’s resignation does not necessarily trigger a by-election is against the letter and the spirit of the GRC system. The party asked the following questions with regards to how this decision counters the GRC system:
“If the government can remove a minority MP at will after he/she is elected, why set the number of GRCs – and therefore the number of minority MPs – to be contested in the first place?
“In addition, the government stipulates the particular ethnic representation for a particular GRC so as to ensure that the ethnic community in that GRC is adequately and effectively represented. By removing that MP, is the government not also removing that community’s representation in Parliament?”
Mr Chan explained in a parliamentary response in February that the GRC system, which requires each team to include at least one member of a minority race, has been in place since 1988, and that it has two purposes: first, to ensure enough minority members in Parliament and secondly, to ensure no political campaign on issues of race and religion.
He noted that there are 25 minority MPs out of 89 – “more than what you’d expect proportionately from adding up the percentage of Malays, Indians and other minorities”.
“Even if we have one less, that is 24 out of 89, which is 27 per cent of Parliament,” Mr Chan said.
It is unclear whether the minister or another representative of Government will respond to the SDP’s questions.
In the meantime, here is a blast from the past from the last by-election that was called in Singapore – at the Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency (SMC) in May 2016. As SDP Secretary-General Dr Chee Soon Juan squared off with PAP’s Mr Murali Pillai, Mdm Halimah appeared at Mr Pillai’s election rally and targeted the opposition party.
She had said then of the SDP and Dr Chee:
“Don’t get deceived. Don’t get diverted. Don’t get confused. They may be confused, but we don’t get confused.”
Dr Chee lost the by-election with 38.8 percent of votes.