Lawyers ordered to dig into S'pore history: Hougang by-election case
Straits Times; 15 Jan 2013; Goh Chin Lian
Legislation in 1963 may shed more light on by-elections: Court of Appeal
THE Hougang by-election case is now before the Court of Appeal, which yesterday ordered lawyers on both sides to dig into Singapore's legislative history in 1963 to shed more light on the law and the calling of by-elections.
The year 1963 is when Singapore merged with Malaysia.
Lawyers from the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and Mr M. Ravi, who represents Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu, were given a month for further written submissions. Further research might fill any gaps in the earlier High Court decision, the appeals court said.
The case centres on the Prime Minister's discretion to call by-elections. It dates back to last March, when Madam Vellama made an application after former Workers' Party MP Yaw Shin Leong vacated his Hougang seat.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called a by-election on May 9 and Madam Vellama's case was heard on July 16. In August, Justice Philip Pillai ruled the PM has discretion to decide if and when to call a by-election, to fill a seat vacated by an elected MP.
Madam Vellama appealed against his decision. Her lawyer, Mr Ravi, said yesterday she still has a right to know if the PM used his power erroneously, and public interest was at stake in citizens' right to vote and be represented in Parliament. He disputed the judge's reading of Article 49(1) of the Constitution that says the vacancy "shall be filled by election".
The judge had said it merely described how a vacancy is to be filled. Mr Ravi said it could mean the vacancy "must be filled": A by-election must be called and is not at the PM's discretion.
The AGC, represented by Senior Counsel David Chong, argued that the appeal should not be heard as the by-election had been called and Madam Vellama was able to exercise her right to vote.
But the appeals court - comprising justices Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang and V. K. Rajah - said it should still make a judgment on whether Justice Pillai had erred in his interpretation of law. For one thing, he may not have fully addressed amendments to Article 49(1) in 1963. That year, to bring Singapore's laws in line with those of the Federation and States of Malaysia, this law was amended to require an election within three months from the date an elected member vacates his seat.
But the three-month period was removed in 1965 when Singapore separated from Malaysia.
Madam Vellama with her lawyer M. Ravi. The Court of Appeal has given both sides a month for further written submissions. ST FILE PHOTO
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