'No shortlist' for presidential election: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Dr Tony Tan (centre) taking his oath of office during the swearing-in ceremony as Singapore’s seventh president and third elected president in the State Room of the Istana on Sept 1, 2011.
Dr Tony Tan (centre) taking his oath of office during the swearing-in ceremony as Singapore’s seventh president and third elected president in the State Room of the Istana on Sept 1, 2011.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Government does not have a specific candidate in mind for the next presidential election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has told Malaysia's national news agency, Bernama, but "we know there are people who will qualify".

Asked if the Government has started to shortlist people, Mr Lee said: "There is no shortlist. It depends on who comes forward. It is not for the Government to arrange. It is for the candidates to come forward."

The next presidential election must be held by August next year.

Although it has been reserved for Malay candidates, the election will become an open one if no one steps forward, Mr Lee added.

In the interview, he also explained the decision to reserve the election for a candidate from a minority community periodically.

As the president is picked in a national vote in a multiracial society, "it is harder for a minority candidate to win than for a Chinese candidate to win", he said.

Since the elected presidency was introduced in 1991, Mr Lee noted that Singapore has had only one minority president: Mr S R Nathan, who served two terms.

As for the prime minister's post, Mr Lee does not rule out a non-Chinese assuming it in the next few decades. "It could happen in our lifetime," Mr Lee said when asked about its possibility.

Citing the example of Mr Barack Obama, who became the first black president of the United States in 2008, he said: "It is a long process but it is possible and I hope one day it will happen."

He added: "The racial patterns of voting is something very deeply ingrained. It is so in Malaysia; it is so in Singapore, perhaps less so in Singapore but it exists."

The US, which elected a new president last month, also showed clearly how voting patterns differed across ethnic groups.

"That is a reality of human nature which we have to accept," he said.

Mr Lee was also asked how Singapore tries to remain corruption-free. Civil servants and government ministers are paid a fair salary to minimise temptation, he said.

"You come in, you cannot expect to get rich in the Government, but you should not become poor because you had to do public service."

From the start, the People's Action Party wanted "a clean system, a clean civil service and a clean political leadership", he said.

"We have been quite unsparing in enforcing that. Whoever transgresses... whether it is a civil servant or a minister, we have to investigate and consequences have to follow."

The people of Singapore have also come to expect a clean system and high standards from the Government. Such an attitude is very important, said Mr Lee.

If the people accept that giving bribes is a normal way to do business, "that if you are in power then these are perks of the office, that will be a very different situation even if we have the laws", he said.

Pearl Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline ''No shortlist' for presidential election'. Print Edition | Subscribe