Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Difference One Person Can Make

In Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white. She wrote in her autobiography, My Story: "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Madam Vellama, 42, part-time cleaner, has a son aged 18 and a daughter aged 8. She is her family's sole breadwinner. Her husband cannot work due to memory loss and other ailments. After Yaw was expelled on 15 February, Hougang's meet-the-people-sessions were helmed by WP's Aljunied GRC MPs. But Madam Vellama said: "I don't want to see one MP this week, then another week, another MP" - especially since she did not elect them.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong maintained (still maintains) that the Constitution does not require him to call a by-election within any time frame. Lawyers and academics weighed in with their expert opinions, but Madam Vellama acted.

  • 2 March - Madam Vellama filed an application to get the court to declare that the Prime Minister does not have "unfettered discretion" in deciding whether and when to call a by-election. She also asked the court to issue a mandatory order for him to do so within three months or a "reasonable time";

  • 30 March – AG argued in High Court to throw out Vellama’s application, Judge Pillai reserved judgement;

  • 3 April – Judge Pillai dismissed AG’s argument to throw out Vellama’s application and fixed date (16 Apr) for hearing of the application to proceed in an open court;

  • 4 April – AG filed Notice of Appeal against Judge Pillai’s oral judgment of April 3 and sought an expedited hearing on its appeal;

  • 5 April - Mr Ravi argued successfully that the appeal hearing should take place only after Justice Pillai issued his written grounds of decision. The open court hearing, scheduled to take place on April 16, put on hold;

  • 10 April – Justice Pillai said he granted leave for Madam Vellama Marie Muthu's application to be heard in open court as he was of the view that the very low threshold for leave has been met, noting:
    (i) the matter complained of is susceptible to judicial review;
    (ii) the applicant has sufficient interest in the matter; and
    (iii) the material before the court discloses an arguable or prima facie case of reasonable suspicion in favour of granting leave;

  • 12 April – Judge Phang ordered AG to file its case for appeal by 26 Apr and for Vellama to file her response by 10 May. Hearing fixed in the week commencing 14th May for AG’s appeal to be heard;

  • 13 April – Madam Vellama filed application to Court of Appeal to strike out AG’s appeal on procedural ground;

  • 17 April – AG’s appeal against Judge Pillai’s decision and Madam Vellama’s application to strike out AG’s appeal are both fixed on 16th May to be heard in Court of Appeal;
Then someone blinked.
On 9 May, PM Lee directed the President to issue the writ of election for the by-election to be held, with polling day set on May 26. Nomination day 16th May, also happens to be the date scheduled for the Court of Appeal hearing.

On 11 May, Madam Vellama, through her lawyer M. Ravi, declared that "as the factual objective of her litigation has now been achieved timeously, she is prepared to withdraw her application".

Rosa Parks did not just inspire change during the civil rights movement, her action also inspired many to stand up for their beliefs, and understand the difference one person can make. We dare say Madam Vellama has achieved similar for Singapore.


  1. What do you stand up for?5/13/2012 1:18 AM

    Mdm Vellama is equally courageous. I applaud her bravery and for standing up for her rights without fear.

    Singaporeans should educate themselves on the importance of human and civic rights, and recognize how we have been pathetically shortchanged here.

    1. The psychological and psephological implications of this trial cannot be taken lightly. Put crudely, PM has probably tried to avoid a by-election behind use of unfettered decision, if unchallenged.

  2. This is one convincing narrative simply stating the fact!

  3. Mdm Vellama has done her part courageously, now it is up to Hougang residents to take inspiration and stand with her.
    The good-for-nothing PM and the PAP stooge he is sending there deserves the Hougang response.

    I hope LowTK will invite Mdm Vellama on stage to jointly recite the national pledge with him at the akan datang Hougang by-election rally.

  4. now that the by election will be held errr timeously, and madam vellama is withdrawing her litigation, we will never know whether or not the PM IS constitutionally obliged to hold this by-e.

    and whether all those times when a by-e was not held was breaking the constitution.

    i'm sure that will be settled shortly tho when the constitution is tweaked in parliament soon.

    meanwhile, this annct to hold the by-e now raises conjecture about other things. like what prompted the PM to finally hold the by-e? is he trying to avoid a court decision on whether or not he is obliged to hold one?

    and what happened to the speculated on by-e at AMK GRC? why did the PM decide agst holding that? why did that army wallah in charge of the Nat Day parade leave the army? why did AMK's Seng Han Thong give up posts he held?

    the mystery deepens....

    1. MAkes you wonder why they don't want us/people to find out if the PM has unfettered discretion? The Vellama vs PM case should continue in the interest of our nation to know the constitution.

    2. Is there an accountability from Seng Han Thong on his given up post? After all, he's an elected MP too?

    3. dun you worry too much about mdm vellama withdrawing her litigation...she has rescinded her offer to withdraw the application.
      the fight is on.

  5. Other than cost consideration, I would much prefer the scheduled hearing to proceed, so that in the event it had to be decided, we would have resolved one grey aspect of the amended Constitution regarding holding of By-Elections and the PM of the day's perogative.

    Nonetheless, we can conclude at this moment, that the brave part-time cleaner won.

    1. Agree. If this is a cost issue, people can start a legal fund to cover it.

  6. actually, vellama voted in aljunied grc in the may 2011 general election. vellama only moved to hougang after ge 2011.


    Thought the hearings is still on?

  8. Magnus Bicker5/13/2012 12:29 PM

    Awww, really like this commentary. Our great visionary leader lhl - as proclaimed by the mass media, ad nauseum - hand was forced, in part, by the brave act of a cleaner.

  9. The court case should proceed to provide for legal clarity of the PM's discretionary powers as we need some kind of judicial clarification to remove any ambiquity in that matter. Otherwise history will just repeat itself again and we will nonetheless be any wiser.

    And in the case of a GRC constituency if they can function with one MP less when the MP dies, why then the need to begin with one MP extra in the GRC Team in the first place ?

    So if some old MP in any GRC were to again drop dead one fine day, does it automatically mean that an impending by-election is unnecessary again proving the point that we have a lot of redundancy that we can actually do without in the first place ?

    1. Same argument - if you can appoint unelected GROs to run programs, then what are the PAs for? How much is GROs paid for to do these extra-curricular activities? Surely some org or some party must foot the bill? Where does Desmond Choo get all his means if he's not backed by his Party? So what exactly is "I am my own man" means? Is he running as Independent? All very laughable.

    2. There is where real Productivity can be realised.
      Seriously, if we do need a certain ratio of MP to a population, just stick to SMC.

    3. One can arguably say an MP's pay could be tied to the size of their constituency. MP A manages 23k area vs MP B manages 56k area should be paid lower than the later. Setting a realistic ratio viz-a-viz resources allowed per area can be another benchmark of productivity. Is that being done before revised salary were given, since we are now expecting productivity tied to workers salary at bottom rank?

    4. @along wong

      you got it right.
      alot of redundancy out there.
      just look at the whole bunch of them, dun they resemble the members of a travelling circus.
      allow me to digress a little, people in the likes of desmond choo are all a bunch of useless parasites hiding under the cloak of ntuc practically doing nothing getting paid.
      get real, go and start something and create jobs.
      grow some backbones

  10. Kudos to Mdm Vellama for her courage.

    The constitutional issue has not yet been resolved, because the PM still believes: "the Constitution does not require me to call a by-election within any fixed timeframe".

    What happens if an SMC MP did not die or resign, but defects to the other side? In the British system he carries his seat with him, but here I believe he loses his seat. So what is the unfettered discretion of the PM then? As it stands, this allows the executive to abuse the system. If the balance of seats hang on this one SMC, what happens - does this seat still count?

    The GRC ought to be abolished. It is blatant gerrymandeering under the guise of minority representation - and subject to the same ambiguities and abuse as an SMC, if not more.

  11. If we should take a country-centric approach, then logically hougang voters should think about how these national issues have trickled down to affect their day to day lives such as transportation, high cost of living, jobs for lowly paid workers, healthcare etc. What's been decided by majority of PAP and their policies are hurting everyone (not just HG) should give them pause.

  12. There is an unseen hand behind Mdm Vellama....

  13. Whatever it is, should be a good sign, because it shows that people are no longer allowing themselves to be pushed around by those powerful ones.

    A small but symbolic victory for democracy!

  14. Good news! The hearing on May 16 is on again. Mdm Vellama's withdrawal was contingent on the AGC accepting 2 conditions, which he refused to grant. He may have shot himself in his own foot - unless everything is just wayang.

  15. The Hougang Residents are
    no chicken, they will show
    that other than WP, they
    will not kowtow to the RULERS.

  16. it only takes a spark to get the fire going...

    Mdm Velluma: to open the issue

    Mr Ravi: to provide legal help

    Alternative media (especially and yahoo): to publicise the issue

    Go, Singapore, go!

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