Appointing a president is 'best way to ensure minority representation': Constitutional law academic Kevin Tan

Constitutional expert Kevin Tan speaking at the Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency on May 6, 2016.
Constitutional expert Kevin Tan speaking at the Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency on May 6, 2016. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The best way to ensure that Singapore has a minority president from time to time is to return to the old system of appointing presidents, said constitutional law academic Kevin Tan.

Before the elected presidency was instituted, Parliament could take into account the need for minority representation and select appropriate candidates for the office, he said at the final Constitutional Commission hearing on reviews to the office.

Dr Tan added that it was "no accident" that Singapore had, as its first president Mr Yusof Ishak, who is Malay; followed by a Eurasian president, Dr Benjamin Sheares ; Indian president, Mr C.V. Devan Nair; and "only after that" a Chinese president, Dr Wee Kim Wee.

Several commission members asked if this could blunt the president's mandate.

 
 

Professor Chan Heng Chee, who is chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, asked if a nominated president would have the authority to check and say no to an elected Parliament.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, asked if it could be problematic for Parliament itself to appoint a president that has to act as a check on Parliament.

Dr Tan replied that the "important ingredient" is independence, and "just because someone is nominated and not elected does not deprive him of his independence".

He said this was similar to how judges are appointed but can still serve as a check on the executive branch.

To this, CJ Menon said that judges had a slightly different role as they served as a check through judicial reviews.

Dr Tan agreed, but said that once appointed as president, a person would take on the role of the office independently.