Government to publish response on elected presidency on Sept 15

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A Constitutional Amendment Bill will be tabled in Parliament for debate, said Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Wednesday. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Government will publish a White Paper on Sept 15 setting out its response to the review on the elected presidency, said Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He was responding to a report by a Constitutional Commission headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on proposed changes to the elected presidency.

A Constitutional Amendment Bill will be tabled in Parliament for debate, said Mr Teo on Wednesday (Sept 7).

The Government accepts in principle the suggestions on three aspects being reviewed, including introducing safeguards to ensure a president from a minority race, said Mr Teo, who is Acting Prime Minister from Sept 6 to 8 as PM Lee Hsien Loong is attending the Asean and East Asia summits in Laos.

Two other aspects of the elected presidency which were reviewed were the qualifying criteria for presidential candidates and the role of a council that advises the president on key decisions.

It is timely to update the eligibility criteria, said Mr Teo, who is also Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security.

Singapore's GDP has grown more than five times, Central Provident Fund (CPF) balances and official foreign reserves are now seven times larger.

"The scale and complexity of the President's responsibilities have therefore consequently grown," he said.

Currently, presidential candidates from the private sector must at least be CEOs of companies with a paid-up capital of $100 million or more.

In 1993, 158 companies in Singapore met this criteria, Mr Teo said.

This could be raised to $500 million shareholders' equity, which would include about 700 companies now.

"There will still be more than four times the number of companies whose top executives would be eligible, compared to the criteria in 1993," he said.

The Commission has also recommended that there are safeguards to ensure a minority president can be elected from time to time.

Mr Teo said he is heartened that Singaporeans, including those from minority races, have argued passionately against this, and in favour of meritocracy.

But all races should feel they have an equal place and opportunities in Singapore.

"Every community in Singapore must feel that a member of their community has a chance to become President," he said.

"Minority representation does not mean the qualifying criteria will be lowered. Every potential candidate, no matter his race, must still meet the same stringent eligibility criteria to qualify for elections."

On the Commission's recommendations on the Council of Presidential Advisers, the Government agrees in principle, but will study the details of the recommendations.

The Commission has suggested a return to the old system where the President was elected by Parliament. But Mr Teo said this is not likely to be accepted.

"As PM Lee has pointed out in his TV interview, it would be extremely difficult for a President, when exercising his custodial powers over the reserves and key public service appointments, to disagree with an elected Government, unless the President himself has the moral authority of an electoral mandate," he said.

The Government will publish a White Paper on Sept 15, setting out its detailed response to the Commission's report. Subsequently, the Government will table a Constitutional Amendment Bill in Parliament.

There will a debate on the issue when the Bill is tabled for its second reading.

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