Proposed amendments to ensure President from minority race and increase qualifying criteria for candidates

The Constitutional Commission headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has released its report Elected Presidency review on Wednesday (7 September) after six months of deliberation based on feedback from four public hearings and more than 100 written submissions.

The commission led by CJ Sundaresh was tasked by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to review three aspects of the Elected Presidency, which are introducing safeguards to ensure a president from a minority race, reviewing the qualifying criteria for presidential candidates and addressing the role of a council that advises the president on key decisions.

Key recommendations by commission

$500 million shareholders’ equity – Under the recommendations, the presidential candidates from the private sector must be at least CEOs of companies with $500 million or more of shareholders’ equiity. Previously, the amount was set at $100 million or more of paid up capital.

Reserved Election for Minority – The Commission has also suggested safeguards to ensure a minority president can be elected from time to time, by reserving a Presidential Election for a racial group if it is not represented for 5 terms. Only if there is no representative from the racial group would the election be opened to all, and the reserved election will be brought forward to the next election.

Increase Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) from 6 to 8

Parliament with a super majority can reject President’s veto on appointments and decisions if CPA’s votes are split

key recommendations

Government accepts in principle on recommendations put forth

PM Lee in his letter to the CJ wrote that the Government accepts in principle the main recommendations of the Commission on the three specific aspects as set out in the Terms of Reference given in January this year.

Referring to the increased of paid-up capital, Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is Acting Prime Minister from 6 to 8 September, said that 158 companies in Singapore met the criteria of $100 million in 1993.

With the criteria of $500 million worth of shareholders’ equity, around 700 companies in Singapore would still qualify now.

“Thus, here will still be more than four times the number of companies whose top executives would be eligible, compared to the criteria in 1993,” Mr Teo said.

As for the reserved election for minorities, he said, “Every community in Singapore must feel that a member of their community has a chance to become President. Minority representation does not mean the qualifying criteria will be lowered. Every potential candidate, no matter his race, must still meet the same stringent eligibility criteria to qualify for elections.”

DPM Teo stated that the Government agrees with the condition on the Commission’s recommendations on the Council of Presidential Advisers. However, it will study the details of the recommendations.

Mr Teo also said that, “As PM Lee has pointed out in his TV interview, it would be extremely difficult for a President, when exercising his custodial powers over the reserves and key public service appointments, to disagree with an elected Government, unless the President himself has the moral authority of an electoral mandate.”

The White Paper is set to be published by the Government on 15 September 2016 to set out its response to the review on the elected presidency.

The Government will table a Constitutional Amendment Bill in Parliament. There will a debate on the issue when the Bill is tabled for its second reading.