Elected Presidency

Elected Presidency: 50 turn up to discuss review of office

The forum was organised by opposition politician Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss and former presidential hopefuls Tan Jee Say and Andrew Kuan were present.
The forum was organised by opposition politician Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss and former presidential hopefuls Tan Jee Say and Andrew Kuan were present.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Many concerned that stiffer criteria may further reduce field of eligible candidates

Two weeks after a committee called on the public to give views on a review of the elected presidency, some 50 people attended a public forum to discuss the issue.

Organised by opposition politician Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, the 21/2-hour session at a training institute in Prinsep Street saw two academics speak about the history and politics of the elected presidency.

Two former presidential hopefuls were also present: Mr Tan Jee Say, who contested the 2011 presidential election, and Mr Andrew Kuan, who tried to contest the 2005 and 2011 elections but did not qualify.

Mr Tan said he did not rule out standing in the coming election, which must be held by August 2017, if he qualifies. "If the circumstances are such that I think I can make a difference, I would go in," he said.

But he had not considered making submissions to the nine-member Constitutional Commission leading the review, he said, though he felt the pool of eligible candidates should not be restricted.

"If the criteria result in a walkover, then that's not good. You're not achieving the objective of having an elected president," he added.

One of the speakers, constitutional law expert Kevin Tan, echoed a sentiment shared by several participants: that the current review of the system is spurred by the experience of the close contest in the last presidential election in 2011.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam narrowly won by a margin of 7,382 votes over former People's Action Party MP Tan Cheng Bock in a four-way contest that included Mr Tan Jee Say and Mr Tan Kin Lian.

In January, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament the President had to stay elected, but three aspects had to be reviewed.

The growth in Singapore's reserves, of which the President is custodian, means that individuals with character as well as competence are needed, he said. Candidates are now required to have held key public posts, while those from the private sector must have comparable experience running large and complex companies with at least $100 million in paid-up capital.

But the number of companies that fit the criteria has increased by at least 13 times to some 2,114 since it was written into law 25 years ago.

The Constitutional Commission is also looking at provisions to ensure candidates from minority races get a chance at being elected from time to time, and reviewing the role and composition of the Council of Presidential Advisers.

Several speakers at the forum were not keen to raise the bar for candidates. Dr Kevin Tan said raising it too high might mean even fewer minorities qualify to contest.

National University of Singapore political scientist Chong Ja Ian said he would like to see a more diverse pool of candidates for president.

Existing criteria already mean a limited pool of people with a narrow set of experiences can be presidential candidates, he said.

Dr Kevin Tan also said it would be difficult to ensure a minority candidate is elected in a direct election.

One way, he suggested, would be to have presidential candidates run in multiracial groups of three, like the Group Representation Constituency system in general elections. These teams could take turns being president for two years each.

Ms Chong-Aruldoss, a Singapore People's Party candidate in last year's general election, urged participants to give their views to the Constitutional Commission in writing.

These must reach its secretariat by 5pm on March 21.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 06, 2016, with the headline '50 turn up to discuss review of office'. Print Edition | Subscribe