Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency

Key ideas raised at hearings

The scene at the third Constitutional Commission hearing on changes to the elected presidency on April 26, 2016.
The scene at the third Constitutional Commission hearing on changes to the elected presidency on April 26, 2016. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

After four public hearings by the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency, The Straits Times looks at several proposals on how the office of the president can be changed.

TEAM EFFORT


Former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan proposed a two-man presidential team. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

A team of at least two persons runs for president on the same ticket, with at least one of them being from a minority race.

One candidate will be president and the other, vice-president, with the two switching roles mid-term. The vice-president can double as Speaker of Parliament or a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers.

A committee can be appointed to identify suitable minority candidates with the help of organisations such as civil society groups and unions, similar to how Nominated MPs are selected.

RESERVE OR LEAVE OUT


Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews feels that should there be no president from a particular minority group for a number of terms, the next election should be reserved for candidates from that group. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

If there has been no president from a particular minority group for a number of terms, the next election is reserved for candidates from that group.

This provision can have a "sunset clause". It would not be invoked if a minority president is elected in an open election.

Another suggestion is to have candidates of a particular racial group barred from elections when there have been two consecutive terms of presidents elected from the group.

This applies to both majority and minority racial groups.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS


In-house legal officer Edwin Yeo put forth a hybrid system that combines aspects of appointing and electing a president. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

To avoid the divisiveness of pitting candidates against one another, the system can be tweaked to have only one candidate. A presidential council will identify the candidate in consultation with the prime minister.

The candidate must be approved by Parliament and face a nationwide election, in which Singaporeans would simply vote "yes" or "no".

NO MORE ELECTIONS


Raffles Medical Group executive chairman Loo Choon Yong, a former Nominated MP, has called for a return to the pre-1991 system when a president was appointed by Parliament. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

By having Parliament appoint a president instead of electing one, minority representation can be assured.

An appointed president can still be a check on the Government, but should receive greater assistance from the Council of Presidential Advisors.

Alternatively, the two key roles of the president - as a check on the Government with regard to reserves and integrity of the public service, and as a unifier of Singapore's multiracial society - can be unbundled.

The president will then play a symbolic role and can be appointed by Parliament, while a council can be set up to safeguard Singapore's reserves and preside over the appointment of key public service positions, among other things.

HIGHER OR LOWER?


Aware's Corinna Lim (left) and Jolene Tan are concerned that raising the bar could shrink the pool of potential candidates. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

One eligibility criterion loomed large - that a private-sector candidate must have run a firm with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million.

Some felt raising the sum was necessary to ensure it remains a suitable proxy for measuring candidates' experience and qualifications, given the amount of money the president will be safeguarding. They suggested various ways of doing it, like coming up with a formula so that it can be changed to suit the times.

Others warned that raising the bar could shrink the pool of potential candidates, especially among minority groups.

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN


SMU law students (from left) Mok Zi Cong, Mohamed Arshad Mohamed Tahir, Ko Yuen Hyung and Alexander Lee suggested reconfiguring the six-member CPA into three wings at the second hearing on April 22, 2016. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

A few proposed changes to the role and structure of the six-member Council of Presidential Advisers that advises the president.

One suggestion was to reconfigure the council into three wings that the president can turn to for specialised advice on financial and legal matters, and appointment of key public service members such as the chief justice and auditor-general.

Another suggestion was for two of the six council members to be elected. The six would vote for one of them to be president.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Key ideas raised at hearings'. Print Edition | Subscribe