Yawning Bread. May 2006

The GRC election quiz




Sometimes, a tiny little thing gets your mind working, and sets you off on quest that just gets bigger and bigger. The James Gomez affair was one such trigger. 

Oh, I don't mean the question of what he was up to at the Elections Department -- if he was up to anything at all. (See the article Don't open the papers! Screaming banshees!)

I mean the challenge that the People's Action Party threw to the Workers' Party to withdraw Gomez as a candidate from Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (Aljunied GRC).

Immediately, I asked myself, is that possible? What will be the consequences if a candidate is withdrawn?

Article 39A of the Constitution says that "The Legislature may, in order to ensure the representation in Parliament of Members from the Malay, Indian and other minority communities, by law make provision" for Group Representation Constituencies, and then goes on a bit about some parameters and the President's role in setting out those parameters. Thus it's not specific enough to be helpful in answering my question.

Next, I referred to the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA). Section 8A of the PEA sets out the maximum and minimum number of GRCs and what the President can do to designate them.

Sections 27A, 27B and 27C deal with some technicalities about what forms are required, especially in the case of minority-race candidates.

Section 32 is titled "Withdrawal of candidature". Bingo! Here's where I should be able to find the answer.

Withdrawal of candidature
32. - (1) A candidate may before 12 noon on the day of nomination, but not afterwards, withdraw his candidature by giving, in person, a notice to that effect signed by him to the Returning Officer.

(2) The Returning Officer shall forthwith cause notice of the withdrawal to be posted in a conspicuous position outside the place of nomination.

It's quite clear isn't it? "But not afterwards", it says. So, a candidate, once nominated, cannot withdraw from the race. So why did George Yeo, who is one of the PAP candidates in Aljunied GRC, say that the Workers Party can still contest Aljunied with a 4-man team after dropping James Gomez?

Dump Gomez, field 4-man slate: Yeo to WP

Renewing the call by the People's Action Party (PAP) for the Workers' Party (WP) to drop Mr James Gomez from its Aljunied slate, Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo yesterday said that a four-man team can go on to contest a five-member GRC.

There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent that, he said.

-- 'Today' newspaper, 3 May 2006

There may be nothing in the Constitution, but there is something in the law that forbids that. Does he not know this?

Lee Kuan Yew also made the same statement. "Gomez can be expelled as a disgrace, as a liability. You are left with four candidates , the elections goes on. It is not cancelled. Just as you can have four MPs left in a GRC, and there is no need for a by-election," the same newspaper reported Lee as saying at an election rally in Nee Soon Central on the evening of 2 May.

How can the Executive make statements like that without regard to what the law says? Can we have some respect for the law, please?

* * * * *


Supposing Yeo and Lee are right and my reading of Section 32(1) of the PEA is faulty, and indeed individual GRC candidates can be withdrawn from the team, yet the election can go on as scheduled, what does that do to the spirit of the Act?

It may seem to be no big deal if a Chinese (or strictly speaking, a non-minority) candidate withdraws, but what if it is the minority-race candidate who withdraws? Can the election still proceed? How does that fulfill the aim of ensuring  "representation in Parliament of Members from the Malay, Indian and other minority communities" -- words from the Constitution?

But if we say that minority-race candidates cannot withdraw, how can we let non-minority candidates withdraw? Rules must be fair.

We cannot just say that the Workers' Party should withdraw Gomez and that the PAP will graciously let them withdraw a candidate. To do so would raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the election that follows. 

The irony would be that such a move, with such complete disregard for the law, would bring the electoral process into even greater disrepute than whatever allegations the PAP has made about James Gomez' failure to file his minority-race papers.

* * * * *


Although James Gomez is not Chinese, he is not standing as the minority-race candidate for Aljunied. 

For Aljunied, the minority candidate has to be Malay, and on the Workers' Party team, that candidate is Mohammed Rahizan Yaacob.


Then my brain started asking the question, what happens if a candidate dies during the election campaign?

Section 34A (8) of the PEA is quite clear on that. The Returning Officer shall countermand the notice for the poll and fix a fresh date for the election in that particular constituency.

Subsection (8A) says, "all proceedings with reference to the election shall be commenced afresh, except that no fresh nomination shall be necessary in the case of any group which stood nominated at the time of the countermand of the poll."

It seems to suggest that a new Nomination Day is also required, only that teams already nominated do not have to go through the trouble a second time. Other parties however may then have a chance to nominate a fresh team and contest in that GRC. What I am not clear is this: Does this allow the team with the dead guy to renominate themselves, but with a new configuration? I think it does, but I would appreciate comments by legal eagles.

* * * * *

My brain still didn't stop working. After the election, can a Member of Parliament from a GRC resign his seat in Parliament? And if so, what happens to the rest of the team?

Section 24 of the PEA says,

Writ of election
24. - (1) For the purposes of every general election of Members of Parliament, and for the purposes of the election of Members to supply vacancies caused by death, resignation or otherwise, the President shall issue writs under the public seal, addressed to the Returning Officer.


(2A) In respect of any group representation constituency, no writ shall be issued under subsection (1) for an election to fill any vacancy unless all the Members for that constituency have vacated their seats in Parliament.

That means that the seat will be left empty. But what if it's the minority-race candidate who dies, or resigns? No more minority representation for that constituency until the next general election, I suppose.

Yawning Bread