Elected presidency review needed even if it'd be hard to convince Singaporeans: PM Lee

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (right), speaking at the Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency on May 6, 2016.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (right), speaking at the Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency on May 6, 2016.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - It will be difficult to convince Singaporeans that changes to the elected presidency are necessary, particularly for a minority to be elected from time to time, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a TV interview aired on Sunday (Sept 4) night .

But they must be made even if the reasons are not yet obvious, because "by the time it's obvious it's too late", he added.

Mr Lee said it is "psychologically hard" for people to accept a system that was new and "it takes time for people to understand why it's necessary and to see that it's necessary".

It is also "legally difficult" to craft the provisions, which are complicated. And they are also "politically delicate" to explain, he added.

"People must understand what the purpose is, people must not feel patronised, they must not feel that you have some ulterior motive and you've got to put across honestly why you are doing this and how this is supposed to work and why it's good for them," he said.

He cited how there were considerable doubts and resistance when the idea of group representation constituencies (GRCs) was mooted in the 1980s. Some felt they were patronising and undemocratic.

But after nearly 30 years of GRCs, they are accepted as what Mr Lee called a "very valuable stabiliser in our system". If GRCs were done away with, Mr Lee added, the impact would be seen immediately in the next election.


"If we don't have GRCs, you may well end up with minority MPs being targeted and you will have fewer minority MPs in Parliament.

"And if in the next election you have significantly fewer minority MPs in Parliament, I believe there will immediately be a reaction from the Malays and the Indians in Singapore, straightaway," he said.

Mr Lee also cautioned that without GRCs making political parties cater to all races, the parties could "start playing chauvinist lines".

While one could argue that minorities' chauvinism would not win elections as they do not have the numbers, Chinese chauvinism could, and "that can be very, very troublesome for Singapore".

Having GRCs has pushed politics here to be multiracial, Mr Lee said.

As candidates are compelled to have a minority member in the GRC team, they cannot make their own team members lose face and have to make sure they have policies that meet the needs of all races.

Mr Lee added: "It's become a stabiliser and a valuable part of our system and I think in the same way, if we do that for the presidency, in time it will be seen as an important stabiliser in our system, which so far has been missing."