Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency

Raising the bar 'could shrink the pool of candidates'

Aware representatives Corinna Lim (left) and Jolene Tan at the hearing yesterday. Ms Lim proposed that those who run organisations with a net asset value of $50 million be considered so more can stand for election.
Aware representatives Corinna Lim (left) and Jolene Tan at the hearing yesterday. Ms Lim proposed that those who run organisations with a net asset value of $50 million be considered so more can stand for election.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

The experience of running a large and complex company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million makes a person eligible to run for president under current laws.

Whether this amount should be raised or reduced was the focus yesterday, as the issue of who qualifies to stand in a presidential election was discussed at the first hearing by the Constitutional Commission set up to review the office.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan and Association of Women for Action and Research executive director Corinna Lim said raising the bar could shrink the pool of potential candidates.

They were concerned this could lead to fewer members of minority races and women meeting the requirements to run for president.

The issue of eligibility is among three aspects of the elected presidency being studied in the review.

In January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the opening of Parliament that the qualifying criteria are due for an update with the increasing complexities of the president's job as a custodian of Singapore's reserves.

Currently, a person from the private sector must have experience in running a company with at least $100 million in paid-up capital to qualify.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, noted yesterday that there were more than 2,000 such companies last year. This is about 20 times more than when the first presidential election was held in 1993.

He added that many who had written to the commission on the matter had raised concerns about the pool of candidates being reduced if the amount was raised.

He asked: "If we were to adjust the criteria or update the criteria in order to have a proxy indicator of the qualifications of the candidates, would it really have the concern of squeezing us into a situation where we don't have enough candidates?"

Responding, Associate Professor Tan said it was not about the absolute number of people who would make the cut. But rather, how many in the group will be from a minority race, and how many will want to run for the office.

"I would say many of you (on the commission) are eligible for the office. The question of whether you would want to run for the office is a separate question altogether."

He added the office requires "people with a certain temperament, people who believe they want to serve in that bigger capacity and who believe they can do the job".

Still, he agreed the criteria should be made more stringent. As Singapore's reserves have grown over the years, "we need a person who has knowledge and ability commensurate with what he or she has to safekeep", he said.

Ms Lim, however, proposed the criteria be relaxed to consider people who run organisations with a net asset value of $50 million, so that more can contest the election.

The fact that former president S R Nathan won in walkovers in 1999 and 2005 indicates "the gate is too narrow", she said.

Aware official Jolene Tan said that a president should be a person who best represents the electorate's vision and values.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'Raising the bar 'could shrink the pool of candidates''. Print Edition | Subscribe