SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal on Wednesday (Apr 10) ruled that there is no requirement for a by-election to be called in Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC) after Madam Halimah Yacob resigned her seat as Member of Parliament (MP) to stand for presidential election.
In its written judgment, the five-judge court dismissed the appeal by Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) member Dr Wong Souk Yee calling for a by-election in the GRC, ruling that there is "no duty to call a by-election when a single vacancy arises in a GRC".
Under article 49 of the Constitution, whenever an MP's seat is vacant for any reason other than Parliament being dissolved, it shall be filled by an election.
However, an MP's seat, according to what the Apex Court ruled was a proper interpretation of this article, refers only to the seat of a Single-Member Constituency (SMC) and not a GRC.
"When amending the Constitution to implement the GRC scheme, Parliament never intended that a single vacancy in a GRC would trigger an obligation on the Government to call a by-election," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who delivered the decision.
The judges, including the Chief Justice and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash, Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong, also ruled that the appellant Dr Wong need not pay costs to the respondent, the Attorney-General.
Dr Wong is SDP's assistant treasurer and a resident of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.
She had contested the GRC in the September 2015 General Election as an SDP member, but lost to the People's Action Party's team, which included sole minority community candidate Halimah Yacob.
Madam Halimah Yacob resigned from her roles as Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP and Speaker of Parliament in August 2017 in order to stand in the presidential election, which she won in a walkover.
HIGH COURT HAD DISMISSED THE APPLICATION
Dr Wong had filed a civil suit in the High Court seeking for a by-election to be held. The High Court dismissed the application in April 2018 with costs, ruling that Dr Wong's interpretation of Article 49(1) of the Constitution was "unworkable because it required the remaining members of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC to resign when there was no legal basis for compelling their resignation".
The other members of the GRC are Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, Mr Alex Yam and Mr Ong Teng Koon, while Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad took on the role as grassroots adviser to Madam Halimah's former ward a day after her resignation.
The Court of Appeal in its decision highlighted three possible interpretations of Article 49(1), in the context of a vacancy appearing in a single seat in a GRC.
The first possible interpretation is the one Dr Wong took, that the vacancy should be filled with a by-election for all GRC seats.
The second is that the vacancy should be filled through a by-election only if and when all the seats in the GRC had been vacated, which was the AG's first interpretation.
The third is that the vacant MP's seat that the Constitution deems must be filled by a by-election refers only to the seat of an SMC member and does not apply to seats in a GRC at all. This was the AG's second interpretation of the article.
The Apex Court found that the article was "ambiguous on its face in relation to whether and how it applied to GRCs", and was enacted in 1965, when the concept of GRCs did not exist.
Referring to relevant parliamentary debates, the court found that "it was never intended that the Government would be obliged to call a by-election" in the scenario of a single vacancy in a GRC.
It rejected Dr Wong's interpretation of the article on the grounds that there was not enough certainty to construe the article "in a manner that its express words could not fairly bear".
In a statement put up on its website after the judgment was released, SDP said it "deeply regrets" the decision and will have a discussion with Dr Wong on how to proceed.