SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal has reserved judgement on Tan Cheng Bock’s appeal against a decision to throw out an application contesting the legitimacy of the upcoming reserved Presidential Election (PE).
After a three-hour hearing on Monday (Jul 31), Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the court would “endeavour to get back to (parties) as soon as possible”.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Dr Tan said he plans to “wait and see”. “If we are wrong, then we will accept it,” he added.
In a Facebook post on Monday evening, Dr Tan said he felt the Court gave the case "a good hearing".
"It was important that the public and press were present to hear the full legal arguments for themselves," he said. "I look forward to the outcome."
Dr Tan took the Government to court in May, challenging the decision to hold a Malay-only PE in September, following amendments to the Constitution passed last year.
He took issue with what he said was the Government’s “unconstitutional” decision to count President Wee Kim Wee as Singapore’s first elected President. They should have started counting from popularly elected President Ong Teng Cheong’s term, Dr Tan argued.
If they had, this year’s PE would not have to be reserved.
The High Court dismissed Dr Tan’s challenge on Jul 7. Dr Tan lodged an appeal against the dismissal on Jul 12, taking the case to Singapore’s highest court – the Court of Appeal.
Before a five-judge panel – including the Chief Justice, Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong and Justice Chua Lee Ming and Kannan Ramesh – on Monday, Senior Counsel Chelva Retnam Rajah set out Dr Tan’s main grounds of appeal.
He said the definition of “President” in Article 19B(1) of the Constitution refers to popularly elected Presidents such as Ong Teng Cheong, not Presidents appointed or elected by Parliament such as Wee Kim Wee.
“To be a President included in the count, you have to be a President who falls within the meaning of ‘President’ that exists in the Constitution as it appears today … elected by the citizens of Singapore,” Mr Rajah argued.
“Such a (popularly) elected President only existed post-1991”, Mr Rajah said. The Elected Presidency was legislated in 1991, in the middle of President Wee’s second term.
Parliament had “mistakenly thought that (President Wee) was an Elected President,” Mr Rajah said, which is why they acted on the then Attorney-General’s “wrong” advice to start the count from President Wee’s term, he added.
Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair called Dr Tan’s arguments “absurd”. The Constitution does not “restrict” Parliament or “fetter Parliament’s discretion in any way,” in terms of choosing from which President to start the count, Mr Kumar said.
He said Dr Tan’s argument sought “to draw a bright red line as of 1991,” and to put the definition of “President” into “a smaller and smaller box … just so that President Wee will not qualify at all,” Mr Kumar said.
He added that the argument looks at the Constitution as “frozen in time … (not as) a living document”. Dr Tan’s reading of the Constitution also “does not promote the legislative purpose,” which is to “break the hiatus,” Mr Kumar said.
Singapore has not had a Malay President since President Yusof Ishak died in office in 1970. The President’s role is “symbolic … representative of a multiracial society,” Mr Kumar said. “This is a role played by all Presidents, whether elected by (the people) or by Parliament. A hiatus is a hiatus, and that’s bad,” he added.