Elected Presidency White Paper: Key points at a glance

The President's chair, flanked by the State flag and the Presidential flag at the Istana.
The President's chair, flanked by the State flag and the Presidential flag at the Istana.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The Government's response to a review of the elected presidency was published in a White Paper on Thursday (Sept 15).

It agreed with the broad recommendations by the Constitutional Commission to change some aspects of the elected presidency.

But in some areas, the Government disagreed or modified the proposals.

Here's a quick look at some of the key recommendations and what the Government said.

REPRESENTATION OF ALL RACES

The commission proposed to guarantee a minority president from time to time.

If a member of a racial group has not been president after five continuous terms, only candidates from that race can contest in the next election.

If there are no qualified candidates, the election is open to all races. The next presidential election is then reserved for the unrepresented race. The racial groups are defined as (i) Chinese, (ii) Malay, and (iii) Indian and other communities.

The Government agreed with the proposal as it meets three principles: it does not comprise the eligibility criteria, there is minimum intervention, and a "natural sunset", so it will not be triggered if free elections produce presidents of different ethnicities.

The recommendation by the commission was also designed to be "race neutral", as it guarantees all racial groups will be represented.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA

The eligibility criteria for presidential candidates will be made more stringent, but they will not be tightened to the extent proposed by the commission.

Government agreed on:

1. Potential private sector candidates to have had experience running large, complex companies that have $500 million in shareholders' equity, instead of $100 million in paid-up capital .

2. Change the qualifying position from "Chief Executive Officer or Chairman" to "most senior executive", regardless of the title.

3. For private sector candidates, to take into consideration the performance of the company they headed, such as the firm's profitability during their tenure.

4.Tighten the qualifying process by requesting more information from potential candidates and examining candidates more closely.

5. Double the size of the Presidential Elections Committee by adding three members.

Government modified or rejected:

1. Raising the tenure of relevant experience for potential candidates

The commission recommended that a potential candidate should have held the highest executive position in a large public or private organisation for at least six years.

But the Government opted to retain the current requirement of three years.

"Given the concurrent changes to other aspects of the eligibility criteria, the Government prefers to adopt a cautious approach, and retain the qualifying tenure at three years at this time," it said.

2. Qualifying tenure

The commission recommended that the qualifying tenure of six years should fall within 15 years before the presidential election, to ensure that a potential candidate's experience is current.

The Government modified the proposal, saying that as long as a candidate's experience falls at least partly within 20 years before the poll, it may be considered "suitably current".

3. Allowing candidates to aggregate tenures

The commission proposed allowing candidate to aggregate tenures, but not across private and public sectors.

The Government agreed, but given that the requisite tenure remains at three years, it proposed to limit aggregation to a maximum of two offices the person has held, and to ensure the periods they held each office be a year or more each.

COUNCIL OF PRESIDENTIAL ADVISERS

The Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) is a body of experienced advisers who guides the president in the exercise of his custodial powers.

The Government agreed with recommendations to strengthen the CPA, but rejected another idea: that the stronger the CPA's support for a veto, the harder it should be for Parliament to override it.

Government agreed on:

1. Expanding Council from six to eight - one additional member to be appointed by President and one by the Prime Minister

2. President must consult CPA on all matters relating to fiscal matters touching on Singapore's reserves and key appointments before exercising his veto

Government modified or rejected:

1. A more finely calibrated approach for Parliamentary overrides

Currently, if the president exercises his veto and the majority of the Council disagrees, Parliament can override the veto with a two-thirds majority.

The Commission suggested lowering the threshold to a simple majority. A two-thirds majority is required only if the CPA is evenly split and the CPA chairman uses his casting vote in the President's favour.

There is no provision for an override if a majority of the CPA members agrees with the president's veto, as is the case now.

The Government opted to retain the two-thirds majority threshold for simplicity, and to avoid inadvertently politicising how members cast votes.

OTHER MATTERS

1. Whether presidency should remain an elected office

Since there is some tension between the president's symbolic/ceremonial role and the custodial one, the commission suggested an alternative: to "unbundle" the two and revert to a head of state that is appointed by Parliament. An appointed specialist body can take on the custodial duties.

The Government opted to retain elected presidency.

Singapore's President should continue to be elected, said the Government, as he needs the people's mandate to have the authority to say no to the Government, when necessary, on key appointments in the public sector and the use of past reserves.

2. Rules governing election campaigns for presidency

The commission observed that some candidates in the 2011 presidential election made claims and promises that went beyond the remit of the president's office.

Among other things, it recommended rules and regulations to restrict or exclude campaign tactics that may "inflame emotions, cause divisiveness or encourage invective", and to make it an offence for candidates to make promises or take positions that are incompatible with the office.

The Government said it will study this carefully and decide what changes are necessary in due course.