SDP treasurer Wong Souk Yee had applied to the High Court, following the resignation of former MP Halimah Yacob.
Wong’s lawyer Peter Low asked for the 3 remaining MPs of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC – Lawrence Wong, Alex Yam and Ong Teng Koon – to vacate their spots and for a by-election to be then called.
If a by-election cannot be ordered, Low argued that the Parliamentary Elections Act should be interpreted such that all MPs of the group representation constituency have to leave their spots when one or more seats are left empty, or when only one remaining MP is a minority candidate.
He cited Article 49 (1) of the Constitution, which states that when “the seat of a Member… has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election”.
Justice Chua Lee Ming, who heard the application in the High Court, noted the Constitution does not go so far as to require the rest of the MPs in a GRC to vacate their seats in such a situation.
“Unless you can force the rest of the members to resign, how do these vacancies arise… Surely, there must be some legal provision for that?”
Low said a by-election for a GRC had been called in 1992 for Marine Parade GRC.
In response, Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair noted that all the GRC’s MPs had resigned voluntarily at the time and there was no choice but to call for a by-election.
“There has to be a power to compel the sitting MPs to vacate their seats before an election can be called.”
The Deputy AG also said that in a 1988 parliamentary debate on the aim of the GRC system, Parliament noted that even when one MP steps down, the others will continue to represent voters.
He said that what the SDP is asking for is for the court to “legislate other grounds” for seats to be vacated.
The SDP has called the ruling People’s Action Party’s decision not to call a by-election unconstitutional.
Judgment on the case will be delivered at a later date.