Singaporean by-election, 2012

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Hougang by-election 2012
Singapore
2011 ←
27 May 2012 → 2013

  Png Eng Huat at a Workers' Party general election rally, Bedok Stadium, 30 April 2011
Candidate Png Eng Huat Desmond Choo
Party WP PAP
Popular vote 13,460 8,223
Percentage 62.08 37.92

MP before election

Yaw Shin Leong
WP

Elected MP

Png Eng Huat
WP

A by-election for the Hougang Single Member Constituency in Singapore was held on 26 May 2012 because of the expulsion of Yaw Shin Leong from the Workers' Party of Singapore on 15 February 2012, which he decided not to appeal. On 22 February 2012, the Speaker Michael Palmer declared the seat vacant, effective from the date of expulsion, as required by the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.

This was the 16th by-election since the first election, and the first by-election after over 19 years. This was the first by-election in Singapore since the new millennium and 21st Century Nomination day was held on 16 May 2012, while polling day was on 26 May 2012. 23,368 people were eligible to vote. Png Eng Huat won with 62.08% of valid votes cast.

Expulsion of Yaw Shin Leong from the Workers' Party[edit]

The seat of a Member of Parliament shall become vacant — […] if he ceases to be a member of, or is expelled or resigns from, the political party for which he stood in the election;

Constitution of Singapore, Article 46(2)(b)[1]

This by-election was the result of the expulsion of Yaw Shin Leong, Member of Parliament (MP) for Hougang Single Member Constituency, from the Workers' Party of Singapore (WP). This caused Yaw to lose his responsibility as the WP treasurer.[2][3] Under Article 46(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, an MP's Parliamentary seat falls vacant if the MP is expelled from the party under whose banner he or she stood for election.[4][5] The last MP to have been expelled from his party was Chiam See Tong, who was ousted from the Singapore Democratic Party in 1993[4] (but reinstated in December the same year after a ruling by the High Court[6][7]).

At a media conference on 15 February 2012, the Workers' Party announced the expulsion of Yaw. Party Chairman Sylvia Lim said that Yaw has been accused of several indiscretions in his private life. According to Lim, Yaw was asked many times to come forward and explain himself to the party but he remained silent. She said that by remaining unaccountable to the party and the people, especially the residents of Hougang, he has broken the faith, trust and expectations of the party and the people. The announcement came after weeks of speculation and rumours that Yaw had an alleged extramarital affair with a fellow party member.[8] Within 30 minutes of 20:37, news reports detailed the mixed reactions among Hougang residents to Yaw Shin Leong's expulsion (Mohandas 2012), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comment that there is no fixed time within which a by-election must be called (Chan 2012), and People's Action Party Chairman Khaw Boon Wan's quote that Hougang voters have been misled by the WP (Chan 2012).

Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.

Constitution of Singapore, Article 49[1]

On 17 February 2012, the Clerk of the Parliament gave Yaw ten days to reply to the expulsion.[4] On 19 February 2012, Parliament received a letter from Yaw stating that he was not appealing against the party's decision. The Speaker of the Parliament of Singapore, Michael Palmer, stated that because of this, the seat was declared vacant as of the date of the expulsion.[9][10]

In the days following the Speaker's announcement, a war of words ensued between MPs Low Thia Khiang and Ho Kah Leong and government press secretary Foo Kok Jwee in the letters columns of the Lianhe Zaobao and The Straits Times over the degree to which the situation compared to the last by-election in 1992 and whether or not the Workers' Party's expulsion of Yaw was an "abuse of the democratic system" to save the party's face.[11]

Commentator Eugene K.B. Tan, assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law, discussed how the Parliamentary Elections Act applied to the situation. Tan stated that although it was the President who issued the writ for election, it was the Prime Minister who advised on the matter, and that it was thus Lee who effectively controlled the election date. Tan argued that although the Constitution did not impose a timeframe within which a by-election had to be held, it was not the intent that this should allow elections to be postponed indefinitely. The fact that the Constitution is silent on exactly when by-elections should be called should not be taken as permission not to call them at all. "In short," he wrote, "the 'default' position should be that a by-election should be automatic, although there is no hard and fast rule on the timing."[12]

Other WP MPs had been covering Yaw's former duties in Hougang SMC.[8] Mr Tan argued that this state of affairs should not continue for the projected remaining term of the current Parliament of four and a half years. "[…] the cardinal principle of representation is crucial: A stand-in MP is not the same as an MP for whom the majority had voted. Not calling a by-election would undermine the importance of representation in our maturing parliamentary democracy", he wrote.[12]

Tan also opined that the Workers' Party should field as its candidate in the by-election someone not already in Parliament, rather than a Non-constituency MP.[12] Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party, stated that it was his party's "primary concern that Hougang remains in the hands of the opposition", declaring that it would therefore not field a candidate that would split the vote.[13]

Confirmation of by-election[edit]

On 9 May 2012, President Tony Tan Keng Yam issued a writ of election[14] for the electoral division of Hougang. Nomination Day was on 16 May, and the nomination centre was Serangoon Junior College. As the election was contested, the Returning Officer, Yam Ah Mee, directed that the election be adjourned for a poll to be taken on 26 May 2012.

Candidates[edit]

The PAP announced in a press conference on 10 May 2012 that Desmond Choo Pey Ching would be their candidate. This is the second time Choo is contesting in the Hougang ward.[15]

The WP announced their candidate, Png Eng Huat, in a press conference on the same day at 4:00 pm Singapore Time. Png previously contested for the East Coast Group Representation Constituency in the 2011 general elections.[16]

Two other potential candidates had originally also signalled their intent to run, having collected their political donation certificates, a prerequisite for contesting. They were Dr Poh Lee Guan, a WP member who eventually dropped out by not submitting his nomination papers; and Zeng Guoyan, an independent candidate who filed his nomination papers but was disqualified for having a public offence on police record.[17] Both candidates in the end did not file their nomination papers, resulting in a straight fight between Choo and Png. Poh was expelled by his party in July 2012 for his actions, as he had not consulted the party council prior to collecting the certificates.[18][19]

Results[edit]

21,978 out of 23,368 eligible voters voted. Png Eng Huat of the WP emerged as the winner with 62.08% of the valid votes cast. There was a total of 295 rejected votes.

Hougang by-election 2012: Hougang
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
WP Png Eng Huat 13,460 62.08 -2.72
PAP Desmond Choo 8,223 37.92 +2.72
Margin of victory 5,237 24.15 -5.44
Rejected ballots 295 1.34 +0.21
Turnout 21,978 94.05 -0.31
Registered electors 23,368
WP hold Swing -2.72

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]