Businessmen's take on panel's proposals

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo explained that the proposed five-term duration for a minority presidential candidate was calculated to be reflective of Singapore's racial demographic.
Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo explained that the proposed five-term duration for a minority presidential candidate was calculated to be reflective of Singapore's racial demographic. PHOTO: SMU

Waiting five terms, or 30 years, before reserving the presidential election for minority candidates may be too long, said a Chinese businessman at a dialogue yesterday.

Mr Desmond Peh, executive chairman of escape game company Freeing Group International, suggested the period be shortened to, say, three terms.

He noted that Singapore has not had a Malay president for nearly 50 years, since Mr Yusof Ishak died in office in 1970. "That is very long," he added.

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo said she was heartened by his remark but explained that the proposed five-term duration was calculated to be reflective of Singapore's racial demographic.

The Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency has suggested that if nobody from a particular race had been elected president for 30 years, the next election should be reserved for that race.

Mr Peh was among 30 businessmen who attended the dialogue in Chinese organised by Bosses Network, which gathers head honchos of small and medium-sized enterprises for talks and sharing sessions.

Another issue raised was the more stringent qualifying criteria for presidential hopefuls. The worry is that it may narrow the field further for minority candidates from the private sector.

But Mrs Teo said the threshold should not be lowered just to admit a minority candidate.

"Would people accept it if we had a $500 million threshold for a Chinese candidate and we gave a minority candidate a discount, say, $250 million? None of you would accept it."

The commission recommended that candidates from the private sector must have led a company with at least $500 million in shareholders' equity.

Mrs Teo also assured the businessmen that there are eligible candidates in the minority racial groups.

The new requirement is needed as Singapore's economy is bigger, more complex and worth more.

"If a candidate has been responsible for too small an amount, he or she will not be able to make the right decisions on a national level," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'Businessmen's take on panel's proposals'. Print Edition | Subscribe