SINGAPORE – The Republic’s Constitution does not mandate that the Prime Minister hold a by-election to fill the vacated seat of an elected Member of Parliament, said a High Court Judge yesterday.
Hence, there arises “no prescribed time within which such elections must be called”, added Justice Philip Pillai in his 53-page grounds of decision.
Noting that extrinsic sources such as the Constitution’s history and the framer’s intentions may be referred to when the provision is unclear, he said that in 1965, the words “within three months from the date on which it was established that there is a vacancy” were deleted from the Constitution.
Drawing on the history of past constitutions, Justice Pillai found that – with the exception of the period when Singapore was part of the Malaysian Federation – the expression “shall be filled by election” has “continuously and consistently” referred to the process of filling a vacated seat, rather than the event of holding an election.
What is mandated by the Constitution, therefore, is that a vacated electoral seat has to be filled by the process of election and not by any other process, such as by appointment, said the judge. He added: “Under the Constitution, to call or not to call for an election to fill an elected Member vacancy is a decision to be made by the Prime Minister. Should the Prime Minister decide to call an election to fill an elected Member vacancy, he has the discretion as to when to call it.”
Still, the Prime Minister’s discretion is not beyond the supervisory jurisdiction of the courts, if exercised beyond its legal limits, or exercised for extraneous purpose, the judge noted.
Mr M Ravi, Madam Vellama Marie Muthu’s lawyer, called yesterday’s judgment “extremely disappointing”. He said he would “think not twice but thrice before appealing”, given the possibility that his client would have to bear the legal costs.