Idea of having run-off elections rejected

The Presidential chair flanked by the State Flag (left) and the Presidential Standard (right) at the Istana on Aug12, 2011.
The Presidential chair flanked by the State Flag (left) and the Presidential Standard (right) at the Istana on Aug12, 2011. PHOTO: ST FILE

Different voting methods, public education and protecting the president's veto powers were some of the issues addressed by the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency, although these were not strictly in its ambit.

Some people who gave views to the commission had argued that if a president's margin of victory is small or he does not get over half of the popular vote, he cannot be said to have a sufficient mandate.

In such an event, they proposed "run-off voting": multiple rounds of voting with the weakest candidates eliminated each time, until a winner emerges.

The commission rejected it, saying legitimacy does not rely on getting an absolute majority.

"In the Westminster tradition, the first-past-the-post system is a widely accepted mode of conferring a legitimate democratic mandate on the candidate who emerges victorious at the polls," it said.

The president's legitimacy comes from a process "which is free, open and fair, and which binds all citizens". In short, getting the most votes in a nationwide election.

Insisting on an absolute majority is not warranted, the report said.


Further, holding run-off elections "is likely to be unnecessarily complex and cumbersome", takes more time and could also worsen obstacles faced by minority candidates.

These concerns are not outweighed "by any clear or principled benefit" that run-off elections could confer, the commission concluded.

Another issue raised by people was the need for greater education on the role and powers of the elected president.

The commission strongly endorsed this, saying such education should focus on the president's role and powers, the functions of the Council of Presidential Advisers, the interaction between the president and the council, and the "interplay of powers" between the president and the Government.

It noted that presidential elections may have been contested without a correct understanding of the office's role - something the commission "views with grave concern".

Questions were also raised about two Articles in the Constitution which aim to safeguard the president's discretionary powers - but are not actually in force.

Under Article 5(2A), the president can essentially veto any proposed amendment to certain core constitutional provisions, like those which relate to fundamental liberties or the presidency itself.

Parliament can override this veto only if it has the support of two-thirds of the electorate in a national referendum.

Article 5A also gives the president discretion to veto proposed amendments to other constitutional provisions, if the changes would curtail the president's own powers. Neither of the Articles are in force. Parliament suspended them "so that constitutional amendments could be made to fine-tune... the elected presidency without the hurdle of having to convene a national referendum each time", the commission noted.

Some of those who gave their views to the commission want the two Articles to be brought into force.

"Indefinite suspension may not be appropriate," the commission said, adding that the Government should decide whether to bring them into force or repeal them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Idea of having run-off elections rejected'. Print Edition | Subscribe