Judgment soon on legal challenge over presidential election

Dr Tan Cheng Bock's challenge centres on the timing and basis of the upcoming reserved presidential election.
Dr Tan Cheng Bock's challenge centres on the timing and basis of the upcoming reserved presidential election.

The High Court will, in a week's time, give its judgment on former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock's legal challenge on the timing and basis of the upcoming reserved presidential election.

Justice Quentin Loh heard the case yesterday in chambers -which meant the proceedings were not open to the public. He reserved judgment on the matter.

Dr Tan was represented by Senior Counsel Chelva Retnam Rajah, and the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) by Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair.

Outside the courtroom, Senior Counsel Nair told reporters that Justice Loh had indicated he would give his judgment as soon as possible, given the "urgency of the matter".

The Writ of Election will be issued in August, ahead of the presidential election in September.

Lawyers on both sides declined to reveal what was discussed in court, saying they would wait until the courts made a decision on the matter before commenting.

Dr Tan's challenge centres on whether the Government's counting of the five presidential terms needed to trigger a reserved election is consistent with constitutional amendments to the elected presidency.

According to changes made to the Constitution last November, an election will be reserved for candidates from a particular community if there is no president from that community for five consecutive terms. This is to ensure that the highest office in the land reflects Singapore's multiracial society.

The Government, on the advice of the Attorney-General, counted the five terms starting with Mr Wee Kim Wee, the first president vested with the powers of the elected presidency.

After him were Mr Ong Teng Cheong; Mr S R Nathan, who served two terms; and current President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

This meant that the upcoming election will be reserved for Malay candidates as that community has not been represented for five consecutive terms. This has precluded Dr Tan from contesting.

In his application to the courts filed in May, Dr Tan contends that the counting of five terms should start with Mr Ong. That would make the next election an open one.

Dr Tan was not present at the hearing yesterday.

Earlier this month, human rights lawyer M. Ravi also mounted a separate constitutional challenge on the changes to the elected presidency. He contended that the changes were unconstitutional as they deprived citizens of their right to stand for public office, discriminating on the grounds of ethnicity.

The High Court ruled on June 15 that Mr Ravi had no legal standing to bring the challenge, and dismissed it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Judgment soon on legal challenge over presidential election'. Print Edition | Subscribe