SINGAPORE: Despite being one MP short, the Workers’ Party’s (WP) Aljunied GRC team has focused on its Serangoon subdivision, with the other four MPs making regular social media posts detailing their walkabouts and outreach activities in the area.

The question, however, remains whether residents may be better served – despite the extra care and attention – if the opposition party had called for a by-election and ensured the sub-ward had its own dedicated representative.

On Thursday (11 Jan), WP chief Pritam Singh posted a photo showing WP volunteers at Serangoon, along with his fellow Aljunied GRC MPs Gerald Giam, WP vice-chair Faisal Manap,  and himself. Just last weekend, the team was at Serangoon North and Serangoon Gardens.

The WP appears to have been paying special attention to Serangoon for the past half a year, immediately stepping in to fill the gap after former MP Leon Perera left the party last July.

In an Instagram post, party chair and MP Sylvia Lim wrote, “When a GRC MP leaves, the other MPs and the Party step up. As MP formerly overseeing Serangoon division, it was great catching up with old friends.”

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On the same day, Mr Singh wrote in a Facebook post the four remaining MPs would “jointly oversee the Serangoon ward of Aljunied GRC collectively, including the private residence.”

Aljunied GRC is not the only ward without its full slate of MPs. Sengkang GRC, the only other group ward held by the WP, is also being served by three MPs instead of the four elected after minority MP Raeesah Khan stepped down in 2021.

While observers online have praised the remaining MPs for shouldering more than their share of the work at both GRCs, given the absence of an MP each, some are asking whether the WP’s decision against calling for by-elections is fair.

And while the remaining MPs have endeavoured to be there for Serangoon and Compassvale residents, an elected MP dedicated to the needs of the residents would have been able to provide a greater level of care and attention, according to critics.

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Some believe that declining to seek a by-election has been somewhat of a missed opportunity for Singapore’s only elected opposition party since Mr Singh himself had asked in 2017 if there would be a by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC in the context of then-MP and Speaker of the House Halimah Yacob vacating her seat to mount a presidential bid since the law requires at least one minority representative in every GRC. Mr Chan Chun Sing told him that there would be no by-election.

According to the Parliamentary Elections Act, a Writ of Election will be issued only if all the MPs for the GRC have vacated their seats.

“If only one of the MPs vacates his/her seat, the needs of residents in the GRC would continue to be served by the remaining members in the GRC team,” says the Elections Department Singapore (ELD).

There have been 11 by-elections in Singapore’s history, the most recent being in 2016 at Bukit Batok SMC.

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The WP GRCs are not the only ones with vacant seats. Ruling party-held Marine Parade GRC, Tampines GRC, and Jurong GRC are also one MP short each. West Coast GRC is also essentially in the same boat, with anchor Minister S Iswaran suspended amid a corruption probe.

The absences at the People’s Action Party (PAP) wards are perhaps precisely why the vacancies at the WP constituencies are concerning.

By declining to call for by-elections, the WP may have lost moral ground in keeping the ruling party accountable for filling its four empty seats and questioning the GRC system. /TISG

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