1. Why do we need to ensure minority Presidents? Will the minority President become a token President?
The President symbolises and unifies the nation.
In fact, before the President was an elected role, there was an unwritten rule that the Presidents will be multi-racial. Mr Lee Kuan Yew insisted on this “to remind Singaporeans that their country was multi-racial”.
First four Presidents of Singapore.
As a Berita Harian editorial bluntly pointed out, “the fact is that Singapore has not achieved its goal of becoming a race-blind society.” The 2016 CNA-IPS Survey found that even though the majority will accept a President of another race, most (>90%) prefer people of the same race as themselves.
So race is still a big factor in the Presidential elections. We need to ensure the elected Presidency will not be dominated by only the majority race.
The Commission has recommended if a particular racial group has not been represented in the President’s office for five consecutive terms, which is up to 30 years, the next election will be “reserved” for them. If open elections produce Presidents from different races, the safeguard will never be triggered.
The Commission recommended that the eligibility criteria to be fulfilled should be the same for all races. They will not be lowered under any circumstances in order to accommodate candidates from any given racial group.
There will probably be no need to lower criteria anyway. PM Lee Hsien Loong has said that we currently have enough eligible Malays and Indians who can run for President. As the communities advance, this number will increase.
2. Why revise the eligibility criteria?
Now, the chairman or CEO of a company with at least $100 million in paid-up capital can run for President. The commission suggested that the capital threshold be increased 5 times, to $500 million.
This is in proportion to the growth in our reserves, and the responsibility the President has to take on. Since 1990, our GDP, CPF balances and official foreign reserves have all increased more than 5 times.
In fact, this doesn’t reduce the pool of Presidential candidates. Only 158 companies qualified under the rules in 1993, but because our economy is so much bigger now, more than 700 companies will qualify under these new rules.
3. Should we have elections for President?
The President is the very important “second key” to our reserves.
During the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, President Nathan approved Government’s request to set aside S$150 billion of our reserves as guarantee on all bank deposits in Singapore. That’s half our CPF balances!
A President who is elected will have a much stronger mandate to reject Government’s requests if necessary.
4. Who’s recommended these changes?
The nine-member Constitutional Commission comprises top minds from the courts, public service, private sector and academia.
Chairman: Sundaresh Menon
Chief Justice, Supreme Court
Justice Tay Yong Kwang
Judge, Supreme Court
Mr Eddie Teo
Chairman, Public Service Commission
Mr Abdullah Tarmugi
Member, Presidential Council for Minority Rights
Professor Chan Heng Chee
Chairman, Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Mr Chua Thian Poh
Chairman and CEO, Ho Bee Land Ltd
Mr Philip Ng
CEO, Far East Organization
Mr Peter Seah
Chairman, DBS Bank Ltd
Mr Wong Ngit Liong
Chairman and CEO, Venture Corporation Ltd
5. Are these changes a “done deal”?
The Constitutional Commission has made its recommendations. Government will study the recommendations and respond on 15 Sep 2016. Any amendments to the system will then be debated and voted on in Parliament before they’re implemented.