Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock questions changes to elected presidency

Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock questioned the government's decision to include Mr Wee Kim Wee's term in deciding when to trigger a reserved election, saying that the next presidential election should be an open election.VIDEO: REUTERS
Tan Cheng Bok says Presidential Election 2017 should be an open election.ST VIDEO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock held a press conference on Friday (March 31) on the 2017 Presidential Election.
Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock held a press conference on Friday (March 31) on the 2017 Presidential Election. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Former MP disagrees with move to reserve upcoming presidential election for Malay candidates

Former MP and one-time presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock yesterday questioned the Government's reasons for reserving the upcoming presidential election for Malay candidates and suggested the changes were made to disqualify him from contesting.

A central plank for his disagreeing with the move was the Government's decision to include the term of the late former president Wee Kim Wee in calculating when a reserved election should be held.

Dr Tan, 76, said Mr Wee, who served from August 1985 to August 1993, did not contest an election.

Speaking at a press conference, he said the Government should refer the matter to the courts for "independent judicial verification".

The next presidential election, due this September, should be open to candidates of all races, he added.


This matter has been considered and debated extensively for more than a year. A Constitutional Commission chaired by the Chief Justice undertook extensive consultations on the Elected Presidency, including public hearings. Dr Tan did not participate in those hearings or give his views to the commission. The Government gave its response to the commission's report in a White Paper, and Parliament debated the matter over three days, before passing amendments to the Constitution. Dr Tan has not raised any new points that require response.

A MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION SPOKESMAN, in response to media queries on Dr Tan Cheng Bock's press conference.


"I am concerned that our elected presidency will always be tainted with the suspicion that the reserved election of 2017 was introduced to prevent my candidacy," Dr Tan said at the press conference.

His comments came more than six months after a Constitutional Commission appointed to review the elected presidency (EP) submitted recommendations to the Government, and some five months after Parliament approved changes to the EP.

The commission, set up last year and chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, called for views from the public, received over 100 submissions, and held four public hearings in April and May last year.

A key change - to ensure that Singaporeans of all races are represented in the highest office in the land - will see elections reserved for candidates from a particular racial group when no one from the group has held the office for five consecutive terms.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament last November that the next election would be reserved for candidates from the Malay community as there has not been a Malay president since Singapore's first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970.

The Government, which received advice from the Attorney-General (A-G), started counting the five continuous terms from the term of Mr Wee, the first president vested with the powers of the elected president.

Mr Wee was in office when the EP went into effect in 1991. After him were Mr Ong Teng Cheong; Mr S R Nathan, who served two terms; and current President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

At his hour-long press conference, Dr Tan said starting the count with Mr Wee was erroneous as his powers were given to him by Parliament, "not by the people".

Instead, Mr Ong, elected in 1993, was considered the first elected president, said Dr Tan, who served as a People's Action Party MP from 1980 to 2006.

There was also no proper explanation given as to why the A-G advised the Government to start the count from Mr Wee's term, he said, adding: "If need be, the Government can refer the Attorney-General's Chambers' opinion to court for independent judicial verification."

Dr Tan, who narrowly lost to President Tan in a four-way contest in the 2011 election, said in March last year that he would contest again.

But he is now not eligible to do so, in part because the criteria for candidates has also been tightened. For instance, candidates drawing on their private-sector experience must have been the most senior executive of a company that has at least $500 million in shareholders' equity.

Ministers who responded to criticism last year that the changes might be seen as a move to deny Dr Tan the chance to run explained that the changes were to improve the system for Singapore's long- term benefit - not to bar certain individuals from standing.

Asked yesterday if he would seek a judicial review, Dr Tan said he wanted to keep his options open.

In a statement last night, a Communications and Information Ministry spokesman noted that Dr Tan did not give his views to the Constitutional Commission, and said the changes were considered and debated extensively for over a year.

"Dr Tan has not raised any new points that require response," said the spokesman.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Tan Cheng Bock questions EP changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe