Inconsistencies, gaps in elected presidency proposals

In reading The Straits Times' thorough coverage of the Constitutional Commission's recommendations on the elected presidency, some thoughts come to mind.

The use of a company's shareholders' equity and hands-on experience in managing such a company as new eligibility criteria will make it more difficult for one to become eligible. Yet, no such requirement is placed on public-sector officials, who qualify solely by the heft of their positions.

Given the growth of the economy and the size of businesses, the new eligibility criteria will, reportedly, increase the size of the candidate pool today, as compared with the number eligible in 1993, when the first presidential election was held.

What is more relevant is the size of the pool just before, and after, the new criteria are to take effect.

Also, what is needed is a comparison of the new criteria's effect on the number of minority candidates.

Since it is hard enough to get good people interested in being elected president, the net should be widened, not narrowed.

It is good that the Council of Presidential Advisers has been given a more important role in advising the president.

The commission has used the "Westminster tradition" to dismiss the need for the president to be elected by a majority of the electorate.

But our system of group representation constituencies and the elected presidency are a far cry from the Westminster tradition.

How, then, can a narrow aspect of this tradition now be cherry-picked to defend the first-past-the-post system for the elected presidency?

The commission's view that a run-off election "is likely to be unnecessarily complex and cumbersome" is no reason for not endorsing a run-off election.

Many countries hold run-off elections for important posts.

The commission has concluded that "Singapore cannot yet be considered a post-racial society". But, hasn't the recent by-election, where a minority candidate defeated one from the majority race, shown otherwise?

The proposal for each race to get a shot at the presidency could well have the undesirable effect of entrenching this provision. This will be hard to remove in future, and so make it even more difficult for us to ever become a race-blind nation.

Maurice de Vaz

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Inconsistencies, gaps in elected presidency proposals'. Print Edition | Subscribe