SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal on Wednesday (Aug 23) threw out Dr Tan Cheng Bock's appeal against a decision to dismiss an application contesting the legitimacy and timing of the upcoming reserved Presidential Election (PE).
This was confirmed to Channel NewsAsia by Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar and Dr Tan's personal assistant.
The appeal was filed after the High Court dismissed Dr Tan’s constitutional challenge on Jul 7.
On Jul 31, the appeal hearing was presided over by five judges, including Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.
In a 68-page written judgment released on Wednesday, the panel concluded that Parliament is lawfully allowed to specify President Wee Kim Wee’s last term as the first term, for the purpose of determining a reserved election.
During the appeal hearing, Dr Tan’s lawyers had argued this was unconstitutional because President Wee was elected by Parliament and not elected by the people.
But the court disagreed, noting that based on its interpretation of the law, Parliament is allowed to specify “any of the past five terms of office of the President that immediately precede the 2017 election as the first term”.
It also said that the law focuses “on those who have “held the office of the President”, without any distinction made in relation to the method by which they were elected.”
Under changes to the Constitution passed in Parliament last year, an election is reserved for a particular racial group, if no one from that community has been president for five straight terms.
The Government announced that it would start counting this from the term of President Wee, who was in office when the Elected Presidency scheme took effect in 1991.
Dr Tan took issue with what he said was the Government’s “unconstitutional” decision, saying they should have started counting from elected President Ong Teng Cheong’s term.
As there have been no Malay presidents in the last five terms, the upcoming election set for September is to be reserved for Malay candidates, precluding Dr Tan from making a second bid for office.
But Dr Tan’s lawyers had suggested that to be included in the count, a President should be one which falls within the meaning of President that exists in the current Constitution. In other words, one that is elected by Singapore citizens.
However, the court said in this context, the reference to the Constitution is as it stood when each of the Presidents in question was elected.
Therefore, this includes those appointed by Parliament as well as those elected by citizens.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL’S ADVICE “IRRELEVANT”: APPEAL COURT
The judges also concluded that the issue of the Attorney-General’s advice was “irrelevant” and “moot” in this case, because they had disagreed with Dr Tan’s interpretation of the law.
They also took issue with the argument put forth by Dr Tan’s lawyers, that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “must have been mistaken about President Wee being elected by the citizens and must have been misled by the (Attorney-General)’s advice”, likewise the case for other Members of Parliament.
PM Lee had during a speech in November said: “We have taken the Attorney-General’s advice. We will start counting from the first President who exercised the powers of the Elected President, in other words, Dr Wee Kim Wee. That means we are now in the fifth term of the Elected Presidency. ”
But the Court said: “There is nothing to suggest that there was any misapprehension on the part either of PM Lee or the MPs that President Wee was an Elected President in the sense of his having been elected by the citizens.”
It also noted Prime Minister Lee had referred to President Wee’s term in the context of being the first to hold the office with the enhanced powers of an Elected President.
“It was in that explicit context that PM Lee referred to President Wee’s term, perhaps as a matter of convenience, but in no way erroneously, as one of the five terms of the Elected Presidency,” said the court.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Dr Tan said he is disappointed by the Court of Appeal's decision, but accepts it "with a heavy heart".
"Nevertheless, I am very comforted to know that many of you were strongly supporting me in this case. I never felt alone," he wrote.