Late June date likely for Tan Cheng Bock's challenge on reserved presidential election timing

Former MP and one-time presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock speaking at a press conference in March. 
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Former MP and one-time presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock speaking at a press conference in March. = ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The legal challenge mounted by former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock, on the timing of the reserved presidential election, will likely be heard in late June.

The timing of the hearing was one of the matters addressed at a pre-trial conference in the High Court on Monday (May 22) morning.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) was represented by Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair, while Dr Tan was represented by Senior Counsel Chelva Retnam Rajah, of Tan Rajah & Cheah.

Both counsels indicated it will likely be a one-day hearing, said Mr Nair.

He also said that the hearing will likely be held in the last week of June, subject to the court's calendar. The court will confirm the final date at a later time.

 
 

At the pre-trial conference, the court also gave directions for the filing of other affidavits.

Dr Tan has already filed one affidavit, and the AGC had applied to strike out parts of it. This matter has not been heard by the court yet.

 

Last November, Parliament passed changes to the Constitution to update the elected presidency and ensure it reflects Singapore's multiracial society.

The changes introduced a provision for presidential elections to be reserved for candidates from a racial group that has not been represented in the office for five continuous terms.

Dr Tan's challenge centres on whether the Government's counting of the five presidential terms - spelt out in changes to the Presidential Elections Act passed by Parliament in January 2017 - needed to trigger a reserved election is consistent with constitutional amendments to the elected presidency.

He contends that the counting of five terms should start with Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who was the first elected president, in 1993. 

On the advice of the Attorney-General, the Government had started counting from the term of  Mr Wee Kim Wee, the first president vested with the powers of the elected presidency. He was in office when the elected presidency took effect in 1991. After him were Mr Ong; Mr S R Nathan, who served two terms; and current President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

With the changes to the elected presidency taking effect this year, the upcoming presidential election in September will be reserved for Malay candidates.

 Dr Tan, who lost in the 2011 Presidential Election, has expressed concerns that the changes were made to prevent him from running. He had declared in March last year that he wanted to make a second bid for the presidency.