The third public hearing on the review of the elected presidency was held earlier this week on 26 April. Those who spoke at the hearing include members from the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), human rights group Maruah, as well as law professors from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University (SMU).
Overall, the speakers largely agreed on the need for more minority candidates running for president without the need to change the law, as well as more minority members as part of the Council of Presidential Advisers, the Presidential Elections Committee and the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.
While IPS deputy director for research Gillian Koh IPS researcher Tan Min-Wei were of the opinion that laws should not be changed to ensure that particular races are elected in presidential polls, measures should be taken instead to encourage a greater number of members of minority races to contest.
Dr Koh expressed concerns that a minority president elected in a restricted election may “lack gravitas” as some voters may simply see such a president as “someone who was not open to a complete contest across the nation”.
This is despite Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo noting that even in any restricted election, the same criteria would be applied to all candidates to determine their eligibility.
Assistant law professors Jaclyn Neo and Swati Jhaveri from NUS directed their focus more towards the committees and councils that advice the president, stating that greater measures should be put in place to ensure the presence of minority members.
However, Chief Justice Sudaresh Menon asked if such a move would be “too interventionist” and if there was really a need for it. He noted that a minority president would be important due to the president’s special symbolic role, and that measures proposed by the professors may hence not be necessary.
Singapore Management University law professor, Jack Lee agreed with Dr Koh’s point and suggesting steps to be taken to encourage people from minority communities to consider standing for the highest office instead of changes to the constitution
Dr Lee noted in his presentation that Prime Minister’s suggestion to raise the $100 million paid-up capital threshold for a candidate’s qualification, would reduce the potential presidential candidates as a number of the persons within the pool would immediately not qualify as presidential candidate as they are not Singapore Citizens, most Singaporean citizens within this poll would probably not have the inclination to run for President either.
He also called for greater transparency in the workings of the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) and that its decisions should be better communicated with prospective candidates.
Maruah member Ngiam Shih Tung spoke about the role of the elected president at the hearing, arguing that the president’s main role should be the reviewing of key public service appointments. Maruah stated that there should be less focus on the president as a protector of past reserves.
The fourth and last hearing on changes to the elected presidency will be held on 6 May.