Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 28/2016]
Madam, the office of the President is a highly significant one in our country. It has thus undergone significant changes. The proposals made under this Bill continue to keep the office relevant, influential and important.
I would like to raise a few questions and comments as we further the debate on how we think this honourable office should continue to function in the service of our people.
Diluting the power of the President?
Firstly, we are proposing that the President should now consult the Council of Presidential Advisers on all fiscal matters and key public sector appointments.
I appreciate that we are proposing more safeguards, which is important, and this really is a safeguard on top of a safeguard for all fiscal matters and key public sector appointments.
It will be very safe, but will this also dilute the significance and power of the President?
How many will qualify?
Secondly, as Singaporeans, we value meritocracy and we certainly want the best man or woman on the job. Enhancing the eligibility criteria for Presidential candidates is thus in line with this principle. It is sensible and no one should dispute its importance.
Based on the proposed amendments and PM’s earlier announcement, Madam, I would like to ask how many in Malay Singaporeans would still be eligible to run for President. Do we have a rough estimate based on the amended eligibility criteria?
Thirdly, how about the representation of women? This is equally important given how we have not had a single woman president. This is an area we can do better in, as even in the current cabinet, there is only one woman Minister.
As such, I believe that while we look at the race of our presidential candidates, we should also look at the gender and I hope that future reviews will include this. In fact, I hope we will have a woman candidate in the upcoming Presidential Election, making such a future review redundant.
Heading more upstream
Lastly, like meritocracy, multi-racialism is a cherished value of our country. The representation of the different communities through this amendment is a right step in that direction.
Having reserved elections allows us to do this, though it may appear to be affirmative action or betray a belief that minority candidates are not capable of being elected on their own merit, or that our electorate still largely votes along racial lines.
The fact that Mr. Murali Pillai won a resounding victory in the recent Bukit Batok by-election perhaps serves as a useful test case, which shows that race may not be such an important factor.
While a reserved election can expediently solve the problem, it’s worth asking why we have not had an eligible Malay and Eurasian candidate thus far, to better understand the issue.
There’s certainly much more we can do as a government to improve the representation of various races in politics, their socio-economic conditions, and in leadership positions of different private and public sectors.
We can also do more by heading more upstream and tackle remnants of discrimination that still exists in our society.
A recent IPS survey indicates this, such as how 45% of respondents have heard racist comments in the workplace; 27% think it’s okay not to hire someone because of his or her race and only 38% and 41% of Chinese Singaporeans said they would accept a Malay or Indian Singaporean respectively to manage their businesses.
Madam, let me end by saying that I’m thankful that DPM spent 90 minutes explaining all the details in this Bill comprehensively.
Contrary to earlier comments by Mr. Low, I do believe that details are important. We can’t debate, decide or delay a decision if no details or incomplete details are provided.
I’m sure if incomplete details were provided in this Bill, opposition members will say the same things I’m saying now.
I’m certain we all welcome alternative ideas but I’m also certain we should particularly welcome alternative ideas that have been thoroughly thought through and where complete details are provided. After all, as in the quote by John Wooden, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
Madam, I stand in support of the Bill.