JAN 27, 2016
Lee Min Kok
SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will appoint a Constitutional Commission to study potential changes to the Elected Presidency system, which was introduced in 1991.
The three areas he highlighted: reviewing the qualifying criteria of presidential candidates, whether the views of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) should be given greater weight and how to ensure that minorities have a better chance of being elected.
The president, however, will remain an elected office, Mr Lee said in his speech in Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 27).
Here are six things to know about the Elected Presidency.
1. HOW WAS THE PRESIDENT PREVIOUSLY APPOINTED?
From 1965 to 1991, the role of the President was largely ceremonial. He was appointed by Parliament and served a four-year term.
Four Presidents were appointed in this manner - the first three were Mr Yusof Ishak (1965-1970), Mr Benjamin Sheares (1970-1981) and Mr Devan Nair (1981-1985).
The fourth, Dr Wee Kim Wee, took office in September 1985 and served two full terms. He was the first President to be vested with the powers of an Elected President when the legislation for an Elected President came into effect on Nov 30, 1991.
2. HOW DID THE NEW SYSTEM COME ABOUT?
The idea of a new kind of President to help safeguard Singapore's financial reserves was first mooted by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew during a walkabout in his Tanjong Pagar constituency on April 15, 1984.
He brought up the topic again during his National Day Rally speech on Aug 19 the same year.
The wheels were set in motion when Mr Goh Chok Tong, who was then Deputy Prime Minister, tabled the first White Paper - which contained proposals to amend the Constitution for an Elected President - in Parliament in July 1988.
With the Government deciding to go ahead with the legislation on the expanded powers of an Elected President, a second White Paper was put up in August 1990.
Following intense debate in Parliament, a Select Committee was formed to look into issues and make recommendations, before it presented its report to Parliament in December 1990.
The new Bill and its amendments for a President to be elected directly by the people were written into law from Feb 1, 1991.
3. WHAT ARE THE POWERS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF AN ELECTED PRESIDENT?
Each term of the Elected President lasts six years.
The Elected President is bound by the Constitution which gives him "discretionary, custodial power" in five areas:
* Protecting Singapore's reserves
* Key public-sector appointments
* Internal Security Act detentions
* Investigations by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
* Restraining orders under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act
In these five areas, the President had only blocking powers and was not allowed to initiate decisions or policies.
During the global economic crisis in 2009, the Government sought then President S R Nathan's approval to draw a total of $4.9 billion to help cover Budget expenditure, which focused on keeping workers employed and helping cash-strapped firms get credit.
4. WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED TO BE ELECTED PRESIDENT?
Besides being a citizen of Singapore and not below the age of 45, the required qualifications as stated in Singapore's Constitution are:
* Name must appear in a current register of electors;If elected, the President must not actively engage in any commercial enterprise, must vacate his seat if he is a Member of Parliament and cannot be a member of any political party.
* Must be a resident in Singapore at the date of his nomination for election, and for a total period of at least 10 years before the election date;
* Must not be subject to any disqualifications, such as being an undischarged bankrupt, holding an office of profit or possessing a criminal record;
* Satisfy the Presidential Elections Committee that he is a person of integrity, good character and reputation;
* Not a member of any political party on the date of his nomination for election;
* Has held office for a period of not less than three years either as:
- A minister or a top-ranking official in the civil service;
- Chairman or chief executive officer of a statutory board;
- Chairman of the board of directors or CEO of a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or in any other similar or comparable positions of seniority and responsibility
5. HOW MANY PRESIDENTS HAVE BEEN ELECTED UNDER THE NEW SYSTEM?
Three. The first was former Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong. He ran against former banker Chua Kim Yeow and received 58.7 per cent of the vote, serving a six-year term from 1993 to 1999.
Succeeding Mr Ong was former civil servant S R Nathan, who was elected unopposed in 1999. He ran for a second term in 2005 - he was again the only eligible candidate - and became Singapore's longest-serving President in 2009.
Mr Nathan's 12-year term as President ended in August 2011.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan was involved in a four-way contest for the presidency that year - his opponents were former People's Action Party MP Tan Cheng Bock, former NTUC Income chief executive Tan Kin Lian, and former civil servant and opposition politician Tan Jee Say.
Dr Tony Tan beat the runner-up, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, by 7,382 votes - a difference of less than 1 per cent.
6. WHY IS THERE A NEED TO TWEAK THE SYSTEM?
Some commentators say that the most recent presidential election in 2011 has been viewed as more divisive than unifying, citing the slim winning margin.
Mr Lee, in his speech in Parliament, noted how some of the candidates had campaigned for office as if they were going to form an alternate Government.
Others point to the confusion over the role of the Elected President.
An Institute of Policy Studies poll of more than 2,000 Singaporeans after the election found that four out of five wrongly assumed that the President ensures that the Government manages the economy wisely. Three in four mistakenly thought he was free to speak publicly on national issues he deemed important.
Mr Lee clarified that the President is neither the Government nor the opposition, likening him to that of a "custodian" and "goalkeeper".
"For the system to work, both candidates and voters have to understand this because otherwise if you have a President who thinks that he is the Government, competing with the Government, you have two power centres in the system," he added.
"At the very least you have confusion, you could have an impasse between the two and the democratically elected Government will be undermined."