SINGAPORE: A new Bill to amend the Constitution of Singapore to formally introduce proposed changes to the Elected Presidency was tabled in Parliament on Monday (Oct 10).
The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill was tabled by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, and will be up for debate by Members of Parliament (MPs) in the next Parliament sitting.
In its White Paper released last month, the Government had broadly accepted the recommendations made by a nine-member Constitutional Commission. The commission had proposed significant changes to the Elected Presidency, which include changes to the eligibility criteria and having a mechanism to ensure multi-racial representation.
The Bill provides more details on some of the proposed changes.
In the area of ensuring representation of all races, a Presidential Election will be reserved for a particular racial group if that race has not been represented in the Presidency for five consecutive terms. Reservation can apply to the Chinese, Malay and Indian and other minority communities in Singapore.
The Bill also states that the Government can set up committees to decide whether a person belongs to a particular race or community.
One expert Channel NewsAsia spoke to cautioned that verifying a candidate's race in a Presidential Election could be a challenge, especially for those of mixed races.
"Someone with a hyphenated identity, bi-racial identity, could perhaps have two bites of the cherry," said Associate Professor Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University's School of Law. "By that I mean he or she could be eligible for the two communities that appear in their national identity card because it is conceivable that we now have Singaporeans, or even in the past, who are very comfortable, who are regarded as members of both communities."
That is why Assoc Prof Tan said he hopes the committee's decisions will be explained and that clear guidelines will be set out. He said that while a similar model in the Group Representation Constituency system has not posed problems so far, this cannot be assumed to be the case moving forward.
This is especially as inter-racial and international marriages are also on the rise.
Assoc Prof Tan said: "Hopefully, the committees will also explain why someone is part of the community or not. I think it's always better for a criteria to be put forth. While there are many ways to establish that one identifies oneself with one community and that community also regards that person as being part of the community, I think it's also useful to lay down some guidelines, some criteria.
"While we cannot avoid subjectivity completely, too much subjectivity is going to open up the whole process to allegations of the process being politicised."
TIGHTENING THE ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA
On tightening the eligibility criteria of candidates, the commission had proposed limiting the eligibility of private sector candidates to individuals in the most senior executive positions in companies with shareholders’ equity of S$500 million. This is an update to the current criteria that the firms they come from must have S$100 million in paid-up capital. According to the Bill tabled, the Presidential Elections Committee must carry out a review of the amount at least once every 12 years, and may do so more frequently if it chooses.
Parliament can choose to increase the amount with a simple majority. But in order to decrease it, a constitutional amendment is required, which will need a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
ENLARGING THE COUNCIL OF PRESIDENTIAL ADVISERS
Among the other changes outlined in the Bill was enlarging the eight-member Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) to include two more members. The role of the CPA will also be expanded, where the President must consult the CPA before exercising discretion on all fiscal matters touching on Singapore’s reserves, and on all matters relating to key public service appointments.
The Bill also sets out proposed changes to the Non-Constituency MP scheme announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in January. It includes increasing the number of NCMPs from nine to 12, and giving them the same voting rights as elected MPs.
Additional reporting by Olivia Siong.