SINGAPORE: Parliament passed changes on Monday (Feb 6) to the Presidential Elections Act that will give prospective candidates more time to prepare their applications, and for authorities to better assess their eligibility. Under amendments to the Constitution, which were passed last year, the next Presidential Election will be reserved for Malay candidates.
Like previous elections, prospective candidates can apply for the certificate of eligibility (COE) from Jun 1, or three months before the end of the incumbent President’s term. But their deadline to apply for a COE will now be extended to five days after the Writ of Election is issued, compared to three days previously.
Changes were also made to the timeline leading up to Nomination Day, which is when candidates present their papers and certificates to the Returning Officer. It is also on this date when the Returning Officer declares if the only nominated candidate will be elected as President, or if there will be an election based on how many candidates are nominated. Nomination Day will now be held at least 10 days after the Writ is issued, an increase from the current five days.
COMMUNITY DECLARATION BY CANDIDATES
Prospective candidates will now need to submit their applications to the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) and a new community declaration to the new Community Committee. The Committee will constitute 16 members - the chairman and three sub-committees with five members each from the Chinese, Malay as well as Indian or other minority communities.
In his speech during the second reading of the Bill, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing said the PEC must reject a candidate’s application if he or she does not submit the community declaration.
“The community declaration is essential to the functioning of the certification process for the reserved election,” he said. Mr Chan said the declaration determines the community to which every person elected as President belongs. This is important as it sets out whether a future election needs to be reserved for candidates of a particular community. He said the declaration also ensures that only people of that particular community are qualified to stand if an election is reserved.
RESERVED VS OPEN ELECTION
In a reserved election, the Community Committee will accept a candidate's declaration only if he or she identifies himself to the community for which the election is reserved. The Committee will then refer the declaration to the sub-committee for that particular community.
In the case of the upcoming election which has been reserved for the Malay community, the Committee will refer declarations of candidates to the Malay sub-committee. The Community Committee will only issue a certificate if the candidate has been satisfied to belong to that particular community.
Candidates will have to submit community declarations during open elections as well, but can run for elections if they have not received a community declaration but still meet all other eligibility criteria.
Prospective candidates during the next election will also have to submit a statutory declaration in which they declare their understanding of the role of the President as it is set out in the Constitution.
"This ensures that the prospective candidate is aware of the constitutional powers of the President, and is also aware of the constitutional limits of the Presidential office," Mr Chan said.
Amendments to the Act included making changes to what constitutes a vote on the ballot paper. Mr Chan said disputes arose in previous elections over whether a mark over a candidate's photo or name could count towards a vote. Under new rules, the Returning Officer can only consider marks made by voters in demarcated areas on the ballot paper.
Returning Officers will also be required to carry out a recount if the difference in votes between a candidate with the most votes and the number of votes given to another candidate is two per cent or less of the total number of valid votes cast. Previously, this requirement depended on whether a candidate or counting agent made an application for a recount.