The Workers’ Party has issued its alternative proposal on the amendments to the Constitution with regards to the Elected Presidency to revert the Elected President into a position where one is appointed by the Parliament and to introduce a senate that will be elected by voters to safeguard the national reserves.
Apart from the proposal, it also calls for a referendum to allow voters to decide on whether to take up the new amendments as proposed by the government or to adopt the new proposal by the party.
In its position paper, it states that the party agrees with the Government on the two fundamental principles, that the President should not become an alternative centre of power with the potential to undermine the sovereign authority of Parliament and secondly, Singapore’s national reserves need to be safeguarded and the body safeguarding the reserves would need to be elected to say the ‘no’ and to force a debate on Parliament.
The party believes that an Elected President should not fetter the supreme power of Parliament as the people’s representative. The Presidency should be a dignified ceremonial office and the President should focus on performing his or her role in fostering national unity and representing Singapore to the world.
It also believes that the past reserves should be safeguarded, but that this custodial function should lie with elected representatives of the Legislature.
However, the party disagrees with the Government that the solution to the current problem is to tighten the qualifying criteria for the Elected Presidency and strengthen the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).
It states that by tightening the qualifying criteria for the Elected Presidency, the Government seeks to lessen the potential for the Presidency to become an alternative centre of power by severely reducing the number of qualifying candidates and restricting the pool to the super-elite executives in the private and public sectors.
The party notes that this tightening of qualifying criteria is based on the mistaken premise that candidates from such a super-elite pool are immune to politicization and will not become an activist President. It also noted that the Government has refused to recognize that the problem is inherent to the Elected Presidency by virtue of a popular mandate.
Unlike the typical Member of Parliament, the Elected President is elected by the whole nation to represent the country without any party affiliation. The competitive election process pitting individuals against each other compels candidates to offer platforms to attract votes. The outcome of such a popular election tempts candidates to use the percentage of votes garnered as an indication of popular endorsement and the elected candidate to claim a mandate beyond his or her constitutional powers.
The party notes that, under the proposed amendments to expand the Council from six to eight members and obliging the President to consult the Council on all monetary matters related to the reserves and all key public service appointments, the Government is not merely strengthening the Council’s advisory capacity, but is changing the very nature of the Council beyond its advisory function.
In its attempt to create another check, namely the strengthened Council, on the original check, namely the Elected Presidency, the Government’s approach will create a third key for safeguarding the reserves. When the President disagrees with the Government, the strengthened Council will be empowered to settle the decision on the side of either party. This makes the Council another alternative centre of power.
This approach risks politicizing the office of the Presidency further, by placing the Elected President in a situation where he will be caught in a three-way faceoff in making crucial custodial decisions. This approach also risks producing complicated three-way situations that could end in gridlock and the erosion of the legitimacy of the elected Government.
The party emphasizes that such an unelected Council should not have the potential to create such outcomes.
The Government’s proposal to reserve an election for an ethnic community if the past five Elected Presidents did not come from that ethnic community does not solve the problem. Over a long period, Singapore’s Presidents should come from the main ethnic communities to symbolize and express the multiracial fabric of the nation. However, tying this important symbolic role to the electoral process risks politicization of the role.
As the ethnicity of the candidates will be pushed into the glare of competitive elections in reserved elections, this will inadvertently lead to the politicization of multiracialism and even introduce communal interests into the contest. Therefore it decided that the most elegant solution to the problem is the Commission’s alternative proposal to revert to an appointed ceremonial Presidency and to set up a group of 4 experts to exercise the custodial role after studying the report by the Constitutional Commission.
However, as the body performing a check on Parliament should have the popular mandate, the party believes that this group of experts should be popularly elected. Therefore, a Senate is proposed to be established within Singapore’s Legislature as an Upper House to exercise the custodial functions that are now exercised by the Elected President.
The eight senators shall be elected from a list in periodic elections where non-partisan candidates will have to fit the qualifying criteria. A Senate Elections Committee will select the most suitable sixteen candidates to stand for the Senate election. Properly mandated by popular elections, the Senate will take over the custodial powers of the Elected Presidency. A Senate veto will return relevant bills to Parliament for debate which Parliament can veto with ¾ majority. As part of the legislative arm of the State and not the executive arm, and mandated to fulfill a limited custodial role, Senators would be under no illusion of having any executive or policymaking function.
It is the Workers’ Party’s belief that such a two-chamber legislative system will minimize gridlock and enhance constructive politics
With the establishment of a Senate, the Presidency shall revert to an office appointed by Parliament with no custodial role to perform. By focusing on unifying Singaporeans and representing Singapore to the world, the dignity of the office will be preserved and protected from the risk of politicization inherent in electoral competition and in checking Parliament and being checked by an appointed Council. Parliament shall consider the multiracial character of society and factor in multiracial representation when making the appointment. This way, the symbolic role of representing our coveted multiracialism will also be preserved and protected from politicization.
The Government’s proposal to reserve an election for an ethnic community if the past five Elected Presidents did not come from that ethnic community does not solve the problem. Over a long period, Singapore’s Presidents should come from the main ethnic communities to symbolize and express the multiracial fabric of the nation.
The party highlighted that the proposed amendments to the Constitution by the Government are farreaching and wide-ranging, and deserve much longer airtime where the changes can be subjected to proper and thorough public debate.
Any changes made with indecent haste will expose the Government to suspicions and accusations that it is seeking to shape the terms and outcome of the election, when the country is on the verge of the next Presidential Election.