Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency: Kevin Tan's submission

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 - Constitutional expert Kevin Tan advocated a return to Singapore's pre-1991 system of having Parliament appoint the president.

Dr Tan, who presented his submission on May 6, said the decision to turn the presidency into an elected office has made it "extremely difficult" to have an ethnic minority president.

Before that, Parliament could take into account the need for minority representation when selecting appropriate candidates.

Dr Tan also argued that the role of the president is largely one of "binary judgments", like whether to draw on past reserves.

 
 

Thus, it is more important to raise the criteria for the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) than for the presidency itself.

A lowering of the criteria for the presidency will also alleviate the problem of not having enough minority candidates, he added.

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

Lowering the criteria for the elected presidency while raising the bar for his advisers also "shifts the centre of gravity somewhat", said CJ Menon, who asked if such a move would make it harder for the president to "stand up to the CPA".

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

This is similar to how judges are appointed, but can still serve as a check on the executive, he added.

To this, CJ Menon said judges have a slightly different role as they serve as a check through judicial reviews.

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