SINGAPORE: Is the Government raising the qualifying criteria for presidential candidates to block certain individuals from contesting? In a reserved election for Malay candidates, would someone who is half-Malay qualify? These were among the questions Singaporeans asked at dialogue session on Thursday (Sep 15).
The dialogue, helmed by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, is the first to be held after the Government released its White Paper on Thursday evening. It was attended by around 300 to 400 people in South East CDC. Here is a sample of what they wanted to know about the changes to the Elected Presidency scheme:
Q: How will the Government respond to the view that all these changes are just to ensure that some individuals will not get elected?
Mr Shanmugam: You might as well mention the name of Tan Cheng Bock… Dr Tan won’t qualify (under the new eligibility rules) because he didn’t actually run a company. He was (a) non-executive. And of course the company is not S$500m shareholders' equity. So I think the key thing in this is to really, first leave aside the individual and look at the system. And ask yourself logically, whether... do we, as a Government, do what is right, based on the system, or do we worry (that) some people are going to say this is to knock out people we don't like? You know, more than 1,000 people will qualify from the private sector. Do you think we know who they are and we can make sure that they are all going to be OK? It’s not possible.
Q: When could the circuit-breaker (to hold a reserved election after a racial group has not been represented in Presidential office after five continuous terms) come into effect?
Mr Shanmugam: The most direct answer is actually, the Government can decide. When we put in the Bill, we can say we want it to start from this period. It’s… a policy decision but there are also some legal questions about the Elected Presidency and the definition and so on, so we have asked the Attorney-General for advice. Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October, I think we will have a position and we will make it public.
At present, there are a number of legal questions… including whether such provisions are consistent with the Convention to eliminate racial discrimination, how do you draft it, whether you count all presidencies, elected presidencies, which is the first elected president – there are a number of questions we have to sort out.
Q: In a reserved election for Malay candidates, would someone who is half-Malay qualify?
Mr Shanmugam: It’s a fair question, because 40 per cent of our marriages today are mixed… so we do know, a substantial number are mixed races, and it is quite a complicated question. On top of the complications, now we have to set up a Chinese committee to decide whether you are Chinese or not Chinese. I don’t know how we are going to do that, but we will do it.
In the GRC system today, it already takes into account the possibility of mixed marriages. There is a two-step test. First, what do you consider yourself as? So let’s take a Malay-Chinese, or a child of Malay-Chinese parents. Does he or she consider himself or herself primarily Malay or Chinese? That’s the first criteria. If he considers himself Chinese, then he cannot qualify as Malay. So culturally, what is he, how does he consider himself? Then there is also a committee that looks to see whether – you say you are Malay, but are you accepted by the community as Malay? So that’s the two-step criteria, because people can try and game the system.