National Day Rally 2016: Govt to change law to ensure minorities are elected as President from time to time, says PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers the National Day Rally 2016 speech at Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore's Constitution will soon be changed to ensure that minorities are elected as president from time to time.

Individuals who want to run for president will also have to meet stricter requirements.

Announcing the upcoming changes, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the Government accepts in principle the recommendations of the high-level panel set up to review the elected presidency.

He also explained the process by which the law will be changed.

The Constitutional Commission began its work in February and submitted its report last week.

The Government is studying the report and will release it soon, said PM Lee in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).

After releasing the report, the Government will publish a policy paper on exactly how the changes will be made, known as a White Paper.

Following that, it will introduce a Bill in Parliament to change the Constitution to include the changes to the elected presidency.

The details of these changes will be debated fully in Parliament after that, and at least two-thirds of the 89 elected MPs must vote for the amendment before it can be passed.

While PM Lee did not go into the details of the specific changes being recommended, he spent a significant portion of his speech making the case for reform.

Such periodic political reviews cut to the heart of Singapore's survival, he argued.

He pointed to anxieties and pressures in other countries that had led to deep faultlines between the haves and the have-nots, and to a mistrust of political leaders.

For instance, Britain had voted to leave the European Union for complex reasons including socioeconomic inequality and voters losing faith in the whole political class.

The same thing can happen here, he said. But Singapore can be different if it has good politics which unite the country and uphold multiracialism.

While the political system here is good, some aspects of it need to be updated, he added, laying out three areas of the elected presidency that need to be revised.

Three areas of change

The first is giving more weight to the advice of the Council of Presidential Advisers, so that the president can benefit from their collective wisdom.

The changes which are being proposed to the CPA are incremental and straightforward, said Mr Lee.

Second, the criteria for someone to be a candidate for president should be raised to ensure that the President, who safeguards reserves and senior civil servant appointments, has the right experience.

Mr Lee argued that the president has to make critical economic and policy decisions sometimes, which is why Singapore needs the best qualified person for the job.

The current criteria of $100 million in paid up capital is out of date and this benchmark has to be updated, he added.

Third, Singapore must ensure that minorities regularly have a chance to become president so they feel assured of their place in society.

He said that every citizen has to know that someone of his community can become president, and in fact from time to time, does become president.

SPH Brightcove Video
Ensuring a minority president is elected from time to time, enhanced ElderShield and a second Minister for Finance to help Mr Heng Swee Keat. These were some points raised during the National Day Rally on Aug 22

But while Singapore has made good progress on race relations over the past 50 years, race is still a factor in elections, he said.

This puts minority candidates at a disadvantage, especially now that Singapore votes for its presidents in elections that are hotly contested.

If a change is not made, said Mr Lee, minorities may ask if they are truly equal and the Chinese majority may become less sensitive to the needs of other races.

He added that something needs to be done about the problem, well before that.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.