SINGAPORE: Ms Raeesah Khan resigned from the Workers’ Party on Tuesday (Nov 30) night, effectively removing her from her position as Member of Parliament (MP) for Sengkang GRC. What’s next for her vacant seat?
Her resignation follows her admission that she had lied in Parliament about accompanying a sexual assault victim to the the police station.
In a speech on a WP motion on empowering women on Aug 3, she had claimed that the case was mishandled by the police.
With her resignation, WP members Ms He Tingru, Dr Jamus Lim and Mr Louis Chua are the remaining representatives of Sengkang GRC.
What will happen to the Sengkang GRC team now that her seat is vacant? Does her position as the only minority member of the team warrant a by-election?
According to the Parliamentary Elections Act, a writ of election will only be issued if all the MPs for the GRC have vacated their seats.
If only one of the members vacates their seat, the GRC will continue to be served by the remaining members of the GRC team.
When President Halimah Yacob stepped down from her position as an MP in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC to run for president in 2017, a similar situation arose.
Like Ms Khan, Mdm Halimah was the only minority member of the GRC team.
When fielded for general elections, each GRC team must include a candidate who is Malay, Indian or a person belonging to other minority communities.
In the case of Marsiling-Yew Tee, a by-election was not held, and Senior Minister of State at the Ministries of Manpower and Defence Zaqy Mohamad assumed the role of adviser to the ward following her departure.
In a bid to push for a by-election for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) member Wong Souk Yee in early-2019 called on the courts to issue a mandatory order to compel its three MPs to step down.
In the judgment laid out by the Court of Appeal, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said that the issue of whether a by-election should be called when the only minority MP or any other MP of a GRC vacates their seat was addressed by former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in a 1988 speech he gave to the House.
In the design of the legislation behind the GRC scheme, it was Parliament’s intention that there would be no need to call for a by-election if one or even more than one MP of a GRC were to vacate their seat, he noted.
A by-election would only have to be called if all the members representing the GRC vacated their seats, Chief Justice Menon stressed.
Parliament was also “well aware” that the GRC scheme was “not perfect”, and there would be “trade-offs” in implementing the scheme, he said at the time.
The House had weighed considerations that were “relevant” to the chosen safeguards in crafting the GRC scheme, he added.
“In the context of this specific issue... the extraneous material makes it clear that Parliament had decided that there would be no such obligation because this was preferable to the alternative, which was the possibility that one member of a GRC team could hold the other members of the team to ransom,” said Chief Justice Menon then.
WP said on Tuesday night that its Central Executive Committee (CEC) met at 8pm on Tuesday to “deliberate and decide” on the recommendation of the Disciplinary Committee, which was formed on Nov 2 to investigate Ms Khan’s admission.
At 4.30pm on Tuesday, Ms Khan indicated to WP chief Pritam Singh that she intended to resign from the party, WP said in a Facebook post.
Ms Khan then attended the CEC meeting that evening and “conveyed in person” her intention to resign.
The party will hold a press conference on Thursday to provide more information.
In a letter of resignation to Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin that was shared on her social media accounts on Tuesday, Ms Khan said it was with "a heavy heart" that she was resigning as MP for Sengkang GRC.
She also said that she would assist the Committee of Privileges, which said last Friday that it had begun its work into a complaint against Ms Khan.
On Wednesday, the Parliament of Singapore said the Committee would continue with its work on the matters "pertaining to the complaint" and present its findings to Parliament "in due course".
OTHER MP RESIGNATIONS
Singapore last saw a by-election in 2016, when Bukit Batok SMC’s People’s Action Party (PAP) MP David Ong resigned, acknowledging a “personal indiscretion”.
PAP’s Murali Pillai went up against SDP’s secretary-general Chee Soon Juan in the by-election, and won with 61.2 per cent of the votes.
Former Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer resigned in 2012 after admitting to an extramarital affair.
A by-election was then called for Mr Palmer’s PAP seat in Punggol East SMC. The 2013 by-election was contested by WP’s Lee Li Lian and PAP’s Koh Poh Koon, with the former winning with 54.5 per cent of the votes.