Reserved presidential election: Tan Cheng Bock engaging in elaborate charades, says Shanmugam

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday that former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock had "spliced" his remarks and "rearranged" them in a way to suggest something he did not say.

At issue is whether the minister had said the Government would make public advice from the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) on legal issues related to the recent reserved presidential election.

Dr Tan said in a Facebook post last Saturday night that the minister had said the Government would do so during a public dialogue last year, but then contradicted himself in Parliament last Tuesday.

Mr Shanmugam had said at the sitting that the Government, as a rule, generally does not publish the legal opinions it gets. He was responding to an adjournment motion on the timing of the reserved election by Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said Dr Tan had "spliced my remarks, rearranged them, and put them together in a way to suggest something which I did not say". He added that it was untrue he had been inconsistent in Parliament.

Providing a link to his remarks from last year, Mr Shanmugam said he was responding to a question about when the "circuit breaker" triggering a reserved presidential election would come into effect.

In his answer, he said it was a policy decision for the Government to make, adding that the Government would make its position clear after it had sought the AGC's advice on some legal questions.

SPLICED AND REARRANGED

(Dr Tan) spliced my remarks, rearranged them, and put them together in a way to suggest something which I did not say.

LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, in a Facebook post.

He also said that at the latest, the Government would have a position on the counting of the five terms needed to trigger a reserved election by the time a Bill on the elected presidency made it to Parliament.

In responding, Mr Shanmugam had said: "Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October, I think we will have a position and we will make it public."

Dr Tan, citing this, said: "Would the Minister explain to Singaporeans his apparent contradiction?"

To this, Mr Shanmugam said: "Clearly, I was referring to making the Government's position (and not the AGC's advice) public."

The minister added that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had later made clear the Government's position on the counting of the terms, when Parliament debated the constitutional amendments.

PM Lee had said the count would start from the second term of President Wee Kim Wee, who was the first head of state to be vested with the powers of the elected president.

Mr Shanmugam said the Court of Appeal - which dismissed a legal challenge by Dr Tan on the timing of the reserved election - had "said explicitly" that PM Lee was clear in stating the Government's position.

Ms Lim had argued in her motion that the Government had misled people by giving the impression that it was acting on the AGC's advice to reserve the recent presidential election for Malay candidates.

Mr Shanmugam, rebutting this, said the Government has "always been clear" that it was a policy matter for Parliament to decide.

In his Facebook post, Dr Tan said PM Lee, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing should have been the ones responding to Ms Lim.

"One would have expected the PM, DPM or Minister Chan to speak for themselves and clarify their own words," he said.

To this, Mr Shanmugam said he was responding on behalf of the Government, and Dr Tan, as a former parliamentarian, should be aware of how adjournment motions are answered.

He added: "Dr Tan may be bitter. But that is no excuse for engaging in these elaborate charades."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2017, with the headline 'Tan Cheng Bock engaging in elaborate charades, says Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe