Misleading impression on EP decision: Sylvia Lim

Ms Sylvia Lim said the Government gave the misleading impression that the decision on the counting of presidential terms needed to trigger the reserved election was based on the Attorney-General's advice.
Ms Sylvia Lim said the Government gave the misleading impression that the decision on the counting of presidential terms needed to trigger the reserved election was based on the Attorney-General's advice.PHOTO: GOV.SG/SCREENGRAB

Govt should have made clear the counting of terms was policy, not legal, decision: WP MP

Workers' Party (WP) MP Sylvia Lim yesterday argued that the Government had misled people about its reasons for counting the five presidential terms of office needed to trigger a reserve election from President Wee Kim Wee.

The Government should have made clear that this was a policy decision and not a legal one, said Ms Lim (Aljunied GRC).

Instead, it gave the impression that the decision was based on advice given by the Attorney-General, she added.

Last month's presidential election was reserved for Malay candidates, as a result of counting the five terms from that of President Wee - who was appointed but became the first president to exercise the powers of the elected presidency (EP).

Ms Lim questioned the basis for the decision and how it was communicated to MPs and the public, in a 20-minute speech at the close of the day's Parliament sitting.

She quoted statements made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and others in previous parliamentary debates which she said gave this misleading impression.

PM Lee had said on Nov 8 last year: "We have taken the Attorney-General's advice. We will start counting from the first president who exercised the powers of the elected president, in other words, Dr Wee Kim Wee."

  • Based on AGC's advice?

    Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim arguing that the Government gave the misleading impression that its decision was based on legal advice:

    "During that debate on Nov 8, the Prime Minister told the House the following... 'We have taken the Attorney-General's advice. We will start counting from the first president who exercised the powers of the elected president, in other words, Dr Wee Kim Wee...'

    The clear impression given to members was that the Government's decision to count from President Wee was based on the Attorney-General's Chambers' advice.

    That must have been why the PM sequenced sentences as he did, that having taken the AGC's advice, the Government was counting the five terms from President Wee.

    The PM did not say that the Government intended to count from President Wee, and that the AGC had merely confirmed that it was acceptable to do so."

Ms Lim said the "clear impression given" was that the Government based its decision on the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC). That must have been why PM Lee sequenced his sentences in that order, she added.

A day later on Nov 9, Mr Teo told her in Parliament: "On the reserved elections and how to count, I would like to confirm that this is indeed the AGC's advice and, if not and you do not think that it's correct, I think it's possible if you wish to challenge judicially."

Ms Lim said that "any reasonable person hearing those words would assume" the AGC had advised the Government, and that the AGC's advice involved a question of law.

"Why else would I be asked to challenge it judicially?" she asked.

But it later became clear the decision had been made independently of the legal advice, said Ms Lim.

She highlighted the legal arguments made by Deputy-Attorney General Hri Kumar Nair in court after former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock challenged the Government's decision to count from Dr Wee's term.

Mr Nair said during the hearing on June 29: "The PM never said that the Attorney-General advised PM to start the count from President Wee. What PM said is that the Attorney-General advised that what the Government was proposing to do was legitimate."

 

Ms Lim saw this as a contradiction. "The ministers kept consistently referring to the AGC's advice as the basis for the legislative changes. Yet the Deputy Attorney-General says in court that the advice is irrelevant," she said.

She added that the Government had engaged in "ambiguous language and red herrings".

"We in this House should have been told in no uncertain terms that it was the Government that wanted to count from Dr Wee Kim Wee," she said.

"The Government should have defended its own decision on why counting from President Wee was appropriate.

"It should not have evaded the debate by using the AGC's advice as a distraction, and then gone to court to say that the AGC's advice was irrelevant," Ms Lim added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2017, with the headline 'Misleading impression on EP decision: Sylvia Lim'. Print Edition | Subscribe