SINGAPORE: There will be a review of the Elected Presidency system in Singapore, which will cover the qualifying criteria for candidacy, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 27).
The review, which will be undertaken by a Constitutional Commission chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, should also look into building up the Council of Presidential Advisors, to ensure that the system does not rest on the judgment of a single person, said Mr Lee.
The commission should also consider including a mechanism to ensure minorities have a chance to be elected as President, he added, noting that Singapore has not had a Malay President since the Elected President system was introduced in 1991.
According to the Elections Department of Singapore, to qualify as a presidential candidate, one must have held office for a period of not less than three years in position of seniority and responsibility in the public or private sector. These include ministerial positions, and CEO or directorship roles in companies with a paid-up capital of at least S$100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency.
The rationale was to ensure that candidates had the competence and experience in making financial decisions involving billions of dollars, and assessing the fitness of people slated for key appointments.
"The principles remain valid but the details may need to be brought up to date," said Mr Lee, citing inflation rates over the past 25 years.
Singapore's last presidential election - in 2011 - saw former PAP MP and deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan Keng Yam elected. The election was the first contested presidential poll since 1993.
The office of President was created in 1965, but it was not until a Constitutional amendment in 1991 that paved the way for the popular election of the President.
Although the President is not involved in the day-to-day running of the Government, he has certain veto powers, on matters including the use of Singapore's foreign-exchange reserves, and some responsibility over civil-service appointments, and Government and statutory board budgets.
He added that he hoped the Commission will submit its recommendations by the third quarter of this year, and the Government to respond and table any legislation which may be necessary within this year.
Mr Lee was speaking amid a week-long Parliamentary debate on President Tan's call earlier this month for the Government to study whether and how to improve Singapore's political system.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that the review was called not because of any dissatisfaction with the Government's working relationship with Dr Tan. The President will formally express his views at a later date, when more definite proposals are crafted, Mr Lee said.
DON'T MAKE IT A CASE OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: ANALYST
In response to Mr Lee's announcement, Associate Professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University said the President's post should be based on merit. He added that ethnicity and race remain complex issues, and any moves to ensure that minorities can be periodically elected risks being seen as affirmative action.
“We certainly don't want a situation in which there is affirmative action in the electoral process for minority race candidates. This could even mean in which you say that in certain years, the Presidential Election will only be open to minority candidates, because that undercuts the whole meritocratic ethos, it undercuts the multiracial ethos as well, because people could criticise the minority race President for being in office only because of his race,” he explained.
“I think we need to look at the evidence - do we have good enough evidence that suggests that Singaporeans are still voting along racial lines? If we look at the General Elections for example, if we look at the PAP's best performer - that was Jurong GRC and it was helmed by DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam who is Indian, a minority race.
“I think we need to re-evaluate and make sure that we don't perpetuate political myths and I think that it is important that we continue to ensure that the office of Elected President goes to the best person for the job."