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Raeesah Khan resigns: What happens when MPs vacate their seats

SINGAPORE — Ms Raeesah Khan, who resigned from the Worker’s Party (WP) on Tuesday (Nov 30) after admitting that she lied to Parliament on a sexual assault case, was not the first to give up her position as Member of Parliament (MP).

Campaign banners of the Workers' Party and the People's Action Party along Sengkang East Road in July 2020. Ms Raeesah Khan was one of four candidates contesting with the Workers' Party at the last General Election then.

Campaign banners of the Workers' Party and the People's Action Party along Sengkang East Road in July 2020. Ms Raeesah Khan was one of four candidates contesting with the Workers' Party at the last General Election then.

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  • WP MP Raeesah Khan’s resignation from the party means that her seat at Sengkang GRC is vacated
  • Political analysts who spoke to TODAY unanimously agreed that a by-election for Sengkang GRC will not likely be called
  • One analyst pointed out that this is because only one of the four seats in Sengkang is vacated

 

SINGAPORE — Ms Raeesah Khan, who resigned from the Worker’s Party (WP) on Tuesday (Nov 30) after admitting that she lied to Parliament on a sexual assault case, was not the first to give up her position as Member of Parliament (MP).

Her resignation from the party automatically means that her seat at Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) is vacated. 

She, along with Ms He Ting Ru, Mr Louis Chua and Associate Professor Jamus Lim, were part of a team of young candidates who contested for the four-member GRC and scored a surprise victory at last year’s General Election, up against former political office holders from the People’s Action Party (PAP). 

TODAY looks at other MPs who have resigned in the past and what happened to their seats.

President Halimah Yacob

In August 2017, Madam Halimah Yacob resigned as Speaker of Parliament and MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC to stand in the 2017 presidential election, which she won in a walkover.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad took over her role as adviser to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC following her departure.

Even though Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) member Wong Souk Yee had filed for a civil suit in the High Court for a by-election to be held, the Court of Appeal eventually ruled in 2019 that there was no duty to call for one when a single vacancy arises in a GRC. 

Dr Wong had contested in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC as a member of the SDP in the 2015 General Election but had lost to the PAP team then, of which Madam Halimah was a team member.

Although it is stated under Article 49 of the Constitution that whenever an MP's seat is vacant for any reason other than Parliament being dissolved, it shall be filled by an election, the apex court ruled that the proper interpretation of this seat refers only to that of a Single Member Constituency (SMC) and not a GRC. 

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon who had then delivered the decision said: "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.”

David Ong

In 2016, there was a shock resignation from PAP MP David Ong after it was revealed that he was involved in an extra-marital affair with a fellow party member.

His resignation meant that the seat he occupied at Bukit Batok SMC became empty. 

It sparked a by-election that year and PAP’s Murali Pillai won the seat against SDP’s secretary-general Chee Soon Juan, with 61.2 per cent of the vote. 

Michael Palmer 

Before Mr Ong, Mr Michael Palmer, who was then Speaker of Parliament, resigned in 2012 from the PAP after it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair. 

His seat at Punggol East SMC was immediately vacated and a by-election was held in January 2013. 

It saw a four-way fight, in which WP candidate Lee Li Lian emerged victorious with 54.5 per cent of the vote.

In the 2015 General Election, veteran MP Charles Chong retook the ward for the PAP. 

The ward was later subsumed under the newly created Sengkang GRC during the 2020 General Election. 

Yaw Shin Leong

A few months before Mr Palmer’s scandal, the WP in 2012 expelled Mr Yaw Shin Leong, then MP of Hougang SMC, due to allegations of an extramarital affair with a fellow party member.

This paved the way for a by-election in the constituency, where WP’s Png Eng Huat retained the seat for the Opposition, winning with 62.08 per cent of the vote against his PAP opponent Desmond Choo. 

WILL A BY-ELECTION BE CALLED?

Despite Ms Raeesah’s resignation from the WP, political analysts who spoke to TODAY unanimously agreed that a by-election for Sengkang GRC will not likely be called. 

Associate Professor Eugene Tan, who teaches law at the Singapore Management University, said that the Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act does not require a by-election to be called since only one of the four seats in Sengkang is vacated. 

“For a by-election to be triggered in a GRC, all the WP MPs in Sengkang will have to resign their seats,” he said. 

The Parliamentary Elections Act states that a Writ of Election shall be issued only if all the MPs for a GRC have vacated their seats. If only one of the MPs vacates his or her seat, the needs of residents in the GRC will continue to be served by the remaining members in the GRC team.

In February 2017, Parliament debated changes to the Presidential Elections Act when the country was gearing up that year for a Presidential Election, which was to be reserved for the Malay community.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, then a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, answered a question from WP MP Pritam Singh to say that a by-election will not be called if a minority candidate vacates a seat in a GRC.

Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies, told TODAY on Wednesday that the WP and Ms Raeesah herself probably knew that there would not be broader ramifications on the Sengkang team even after she resigns, since the issue of whether a by-election should be called for a GRC is already tested in court. 

“There won’t be a by-election forced upon them by any means of the law,” she added. 

Assoc Prof Tan said that any case for a by-election will be “political in nature, rather than constitutional”. 

“The PAP will almost certainly not make a call for the other remaining Sengkang MPs to resign.”

Related topics

by-election Sengkang GRC Workers' Party Raeesah Khan Politics Parliament

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