Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Law Minister isn’t ultimate interpreter of Constitution – Tan Jee Say

Joshua Chiang/

Mr Tan speaking at the lunchtime talk at Finexis Building

Law and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam isn’t the ‘ultimate interpreter’ of the Consitution and there are other lawyers equally qualified to speak on the Constitutional position of the President, said Presidential hopeful Tan Jee Say on Thursday.

Mr Tan was speaking to the media at the end of his  lunchtime  talk  “Survival  and  Opportunities  in  an  Uncertain  World”.

“When the Law Minister says you must go by the Constitution, let him answer that – where does the Constitution say that there must be a unifying role for the President?” he asked. “But the Government did say, the Prime Minister himself said that Dr Tony Tan would be good for unifying the people. So I would ask, “Where is the clause?” There is no clause.”

Mr Tan however was quick to point out that he agreed with the Prime Minister on the unifying role of the President, a duty which he felt should be discharged by addressing the  “fundamental  cause  of  the  deep  social  division  in  Singapore which is  the  underlying  economic  strategy  of  the  Government”.

At a recent forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, the Law and Foreign Minister spoke at great length about the role of the Elected President as defined by the Constitution. He emphasized that all public acts, including public speech, can only be on the advice of the Cabinet.

Mr Tan however disagreed. He said that while the Constitution prevents the Elected President from speaking out on issues of governance, there is no specific prohibitions on the President to speak out on issues of conscience, such as the mandatory death penalty and casinos.

President can provide more checks and balances

Mr Tan also clarified what he meant in his speech (see video below) at the Singapore Democratic Party’s dinner on 6th August. During the dinner, Mr Tan had said that one of the reasons for running for President was to raise the profile of all the of non-PAP voices in the lead up to the 2016 General Elections. Mr Tan said that his speech shouldn’t be taken to mean that he has a political agenda to help the opposition.

“Certain views are shared by all regardless of party,” he added. “Just because the opposition is more vocal in articulating them doesn’t make it a monopoly of the views of the opposition.”

But he believed that the PAP voice had been dominant for so long, and that alternate views do not have an adequate platform to be heard. The office of the President will afford another venue for contrary non-PAP views to be expressed.

“The very fact that I’m interested in running for the President to pursue the mission of providing checks and balances on the Government shows that I want checks and balances that it’s good for the country,” he said.

Dr Tony Tan’s ‘motherhood statement’

Mr Tan also answered a reporter’s question on Dr Tony Tan’s recent statement that “candidates should run for the office that exists, not they one they wish to have.”

“He should tell us who he has in mind when he made that statement,” said Mr Tan. “Which candidate among the other five of us has made that statement and what did he say? It’s very good to hide behind motherhood statements by you must substantiate.”

Download the transcript of Mr Tan’s lunchtime talk “Survival  and  Opportunities  in  an  Uncertain  World” here.

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