Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hand of Justice must be seen to prevail wisely

The PAP Government is not unknown to be wont to ride roughshod over opposition's entreties on matters of public interest and in this case the opposition's (and the public especially Hougang voters') request for a reasonably early date for the Hougang by-election occasioned by the vacation of the Parliamentary seat by its erstwhile MP Yaw Shin Leong. The apparent prevarication of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in stating that he intends to call a by-election but has not yet decided on the timing of the by-election on which he claims he has constitutionally the discretion to decide is not conveying the right kind of confidence to Singaporeans. This is probably furthest from his mind and it looks like he will procrastinate holding the by-election as long as he possibly can notwithstanding any outcry or clamour from the public.

As fate would have it, along came a political nonentity in the person of Hougang resident Madam Vellama Marie Muthu to get the courts to order the Prime Minister to hold a by-election in Hougang SMC within three months or a "reasonable time". Overnight she became a sensation and a cynosure of all eyes for her gallantry in challenging the august Prime Minister in a court of law to restore the political rights of Singapore electors where other more reputable Singaporeans fear to tread. As if by divine arrangement, a pugnacious lawyer in the person of Mr M. Ravi volunteered to take up Madam Vallama's lawsuit, most likely on a pro=bono basis. Mr Ravi is well-known for his pro-bono work, especially his famous case of trying to save a convicted drug offender from the gallows. He is well-known for his fearless advocacy before formidable judges.

Madam Vellama's application was argued in the High Court on 30-3-12 before Justice Philip Pillai between Mr M. Ravi and Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC). AGC lawyers argued that Madam Vellama's bid to get the courts to order the Prime Minister to hold a by-election in her ward within three months is "fatally flawed". The application is "wholly misconceived" and "legally unsustainable and unarguable in law and fact". AGC sought to strike out the the application. Among the arguments by the AGC lawyers is that the request for a mandatory order is "misconceived" and is inconsistent with the principle of the separation of the judiciary and the executive arm of the government. They asserted that the plaintiff would have the court usurp the power of the Prime Minister to decide when to call a by-election and usurp the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution. Mr Ravi had based his argument on Section 52 of the Interpretation Act, which states that if no time limit is prescribed for an act, it should be done "with all convenient speed".

Despite the apparent forceful arguments of AGC lawyers to strike out Madam Vellama's application, the presiding judge very judiciously reserved judgement but no date was given for the next hearing. The court has to decide on whether to grant leave for Madam Vellama's application for the mandatory order before it can be heard in open court.

Whatever the judge decides will have far-reaching implications. Heavy is the head that now has to decide on a very delicate question after considering all the pros and cons of the arguments of both sides and the overall picture of Singapore politics. Ideally, if the judge can make a decision which can appease both the Singapore electors and the Government. Some people may say that public interest should take the priority.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Hougang By-election Conundrum

The Hougang by-election conundrum has been capturing the attention of perceptive Singaporeans for some time, if not for anything, at least for the antics of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to see how long he is going to hold out in calling for a by-election in Hougang SMC which has become vacant as a result of the expulsion of the Workers' Party MP Yaw Shin Leong by the WP for extra-marital affairs. By right the by-election should be called as soon as possible within a three-month period, but it is not surprising to discerning Singaporeans that PM Lee saw it fit to put it on hold sine die. He said he would take into account all relevant factors and these include Hougang residents' well-being, issues on the national agenda and the international backdrop that "affects our prosperity and security".

Let's examine to see if PM Lee is not saying all these things with a tongue-in-cheek to try to justify his untenable arguments to put off sine die the holding of the Hougang by-election which he fears would be a Waterloo to the PAP. It is axiomatic that Hougang residents' well-being will be served if an MP is elected in the by-election to represent them. At present they are under-represented in Parliament. What kind of issues can there be on the national agenda that could not comfortably accommodate the holding of an important by-election? By no stretch of imagination can the international backdrop that "affects our prosperity and security" have the significance of dissuading us to hold a by-election, except to use it by the powers that be as a plausible pretence.

The consensus among discerning Singaporeans is that PM Lee and his ministers lack credible confidence in winning the Hougang SMC in a by-election under the present circumstances against a WP candidate. The former Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang has made sure, through his years of nurturing the constituency, that it will be a safe seat for a WP candidate. The adoption of a "New Normal" in Singapore politics by the PAP following their poor showing in the last General Election in 2011 has not enhanced the reputation of the PAP in the eyes of discerning Singaporeans, So the PAP leaders, especially PM Lee, are worried sick that a Hougang by-election will not only be a reprise of the PAP debacle in the Hougang SMC in the last GE but worse still if the margin of defeat is increased which is not impossible considering the unhappiness of the Hougang electors who are obviously pissed off with the antics of PM Lee in delaying the by-election. PM Lee may be under the illusion that he is adored by all Singaporeans, especially the Hougang residents. This inglorious defeat, if it happens, may possibly be regarded as a referendum of disapprobation of the PAP by discerning Singaporeans. PM Lee will ignore this development at his peril.

The lesson to be learnt in all this is that the more PM Lee procrastinates in calling for a Hougang by-election the greater will be the repercussion.