The first public hearing of the Constitutional Commission to review the Elected Presidency (EP) was conducted earlier this week on 18 March. Following the hearing, women’s rights group Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) expressed concern over the lack of female representation in the Presidential scene.
AWARE highlighted that besides one lone woman Minister in the current Cabinet, the remaining Ministers as well as the six members on President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s Council of President Advisers (CPA) are all men.
Executive director of AWARE Ms Corinna Lim called the field “extremely male dominated” and stated that such groups are hence not truly representative of Singaporean society. She also noted that this was the case despite many highly qualified women and female talent in Singapore.
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AWARE also called for the eligibility criteria to run for President to be relaxed as current criteria were deemed by Ms Lim to be too narrow. She also noted the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) had a large say in determining eligible candidates. “What AWARE would like to see would be broadening of the written criteria, and less discretion for the PEC,” she said.
She brought up an example of the PEC potentially granting eligibility to an individual who has run a UN organisation, even though such is currently not part of the criteria.
AWARE hopes that such a move to relax and broaden the eligibility criteria would attract more people, including women, who are qualified to run for office.
However, Professor Chan Heng Chee, the only woman on the Constitutional Commission, had doubts as to whether broadening eligibility criteria would ultimately lead to more women opting to run for President. She noted that numerous women already meet current criteria, leading companies with paid-up capital of more than S$100 million.
Nevertheless, AWARE acknowledged that it is not suggesting the implementation of any criteria, quotas or ratios on gender grounds, with Ms Lim stating that such a move would not be a step forward.
Instead, AWARE is looking towards the broadening of eligibility criteria for individuals hoping to run for Presidency, and for this criteria to be made clear and transparent.