Ensuring minority representation in elected presidency will involve affirmative action, says former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan

Mr Dhanabalan at the fourth and final constitutional commission public hearing on May 6.
Mr Dhanabalan at the fourth and final constitutional commission public hearing on May 6.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Changes to the elected presidency aimed at ensuring minority representation would necessarily involve some sort of affirmative action, said former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan.

He was speaking at the fourth and final constitutional commission public hearing on changes to the elected presidency, held at the Supreme Court auditorium on Friday (May 6).

Mr Dhanabalan had suggested that every third presidential election can be varied to ensure a minority president is elected from time to time.

Under this system, there would be two elections for a presidency with a six-year term, then one election for a presidency with an eight-year term.

For the longer term, two candidates will run on the same ticket with at least one of them from a minority group. They will then each helm the presidency for four years.

In his written submission sent earlier to the commission, he said that during this time, the other would serve as vice-president.


Mr Dhanabalan suggested that Parliament should nominate the slate of minority candidates. He also said the House can lower the bar for these candidates in limited circumstances, such as when candidates that meet the hard eligibility criteria cannot be encouraged to contest.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, asked if this could lead to criticisms of affirmative action.

To this, Mr Dhanabalan said: "There is an element of affirmative action in the approach here. And I think the very fact that we're looking for some special way in which minorities can be represented or can become president already is an admission that we need to have something special."

He added that while the criteria would be lowered a little, this would be done only under exceptional circumstances.

He said that while he was an idealist, he also had to be a realist and consider what could actually happen.

"The very fact that they're talking about making special provisions means we have deviated a little bit from the ideal situation. The question is how far do we deviate," he said.

The commission was appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in February to review three aspects of the elected presidency.

The three areas are: the eligibility criteria for candidates; provisions for minority candidates to have a chance of being elected from time to time; and changes to ensure members of the Council of Presidential Advisers have experience in the public and private sectors.

Those invited to speak by the Constitutional Commission were among more than 100 individuals and groups who had sent in their views on the matter during a public consultation. A total of 19 individuals and groups accepted the invitation to give their views at the hearings.