Two-way fight for Hougang by-election

With the sacking of Mr Yaw Shin Leong, Hougang will have a by-election.

But will it be a straight two-cornered fight between the Workers' Party (WP), which has held the seat since 1991, and the People's Action Party (PAP)?

Or are others planning to move in?

The New Paper (TNP) learnt that Mr Tan Jee Say, formerly of the Singapore Democratic Party, may be keen to contest the ward.

He told TNP last night he does not rule out the possibility that he would be that candidate.

Mr Tan said: "We will see how it develops. In politics, one should never rule out anything."

But he also said that the immediate priority is to ensure that Hougang does not fall into the hands of PAP, whose candidate Desmond Choo had lost to MrYaw last May.

The opposition parties should get together to decide on a candidate and avoid a three- or four-cornered fight, said Mr Tan, who is not in any opposition party.

Members of the National Solidarity Party (NSP) have also been visiting Hougang recently.

Secretary-general Hazel Poa said the party is unable to give a definitive reply now as its Central Executive Committee needs to meet and decide on whether to contest.

Mr Goh Meng Seng, the former NSP secretary-general who was spotted at Mr Yaw's Meet-the-People session on Feb 1 after the alleged affair hit the news, hopes there will not be a multi-party fight.

Under the Constitution, the Government shall call a by-election when an MP in a single-member constituency vacates his office, or dies, or resigns.

In a statement yesterday, the WP said: "We believe it is only fair to the Hougang residents that they have another opportunity to elect their MP. We apologise for having to put them through a by-election."

WP also assured Hougang residents that it will continue to serve them until the by-election is called.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said there is no fixed time within which he must call a by-election, reported Channel NewsAsia.

Media queries

Responding to media queries over the sacking of MrYaw, PM Lee said an election is a very serious matter and noted that Singapore just had a General Election less than a year ago.

PM Lee said: "Now, the Hougang SMC is vacant, as a result of what Mr Yaw Shin Leong has done, and the way the WP has handled the matter... The WP has let down the voters of Hougang."

Responding to PM Lee's remark, Mr Low Thia Khiang, who was at Hougang last night, said: "The Workers' Party has not let the people down. Whatever is wrong, we put it right."

Mr Low had spoken to reporters when he turned up at the end of the Hougang Meet-the-People session last night.

On when a by-election in Hougang will be held, PM Lee said he "will consider the matter carefully", adding that "there are many other issues on the national agenda right now".

There is no law stipulating a time frame on when a by-election must be held, said constitutional lawyer Kevin Tan.

He said: "The Constitution only says there must be an election, as long as it is held before the next General Election, that's fine."

Nominated MP Eugene Tan, assistant law professor at Singapore Management University, thinks the by-election will likely be a two-way fight between the PAP and WP.

He doubts other parties will contest because Hougang has always been staunchly behind WP.

He said: "It would be political suicide for another opposition party to contest because these parties have not walked the ground since 1991.

"Loyalty to WP and Mr Low has been built up for over two decades, so it would be quite foolish."

He said PAP is likely to field Mr Choo.

'It will be a tough fight for PAP'

"Whoever it is, it will be a tough fight for PAP. I think it's unlikely that they will send a minister or someone of minister calibre.

"Even if they did, I am not sure the outcome would turn out in their favour because in my view, the support for WP in Hougang is relatively steadfast."

PAP's chairman and National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan commented yesterday on the prospect of a by-election.

"We never forsake our supporters and the voters. So in Hougang, all these years, the branch was active, our branch chairman and the activists are there, and now led by Desmond Choo.

"So we will do what we can to support our supporters and we will always want to win back whichever seats that we may have lost."

Dr Reuben Wong, assistant political science professor from National University of Singapore, said it is hard to predict how many parties will contest.

"It depends on whether the other opposition parties will respect that Hougang is WP territory (and) so, won't mess around with it.

"Any opposition party that comes in will have an uphill task because WP is so entrenched there," he said.

This article was first published in The New Paper.