Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced in Parliament that the next Presidential Election due in 2017 will be reserved for Malay candidates based on the hiatus-triggered mode.
This was said on 8 November during the second day of the Parliamentary debate on the proposed amendments to the Constitution, the bill was subsequently passed by Members of Parliament from People’s Action Party with only Workers’ Party objecting to the amendments.
Singapore has not had a Malay president since its first president Yusof Ishak.
The Straits Times reported that several names for candidates have surfaced since then, according to some observers and community leaders.
All the candidates would have to step down and resign from the Cabinet to stand, if they are currently at the Cabinet.
The first prominent candidate is the Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who is widely seen as a front runner. The 62-year-old woman is an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. She entered politics in 2001, became minister of state in 2011, and then Speaker in 2013.
When asked by ST if she has given the matter thought, Madam Halimah said, “My paramount consideration is service to Singapore which I am doing by wholeheartedly focusing on my current responsibilities. Regardless of our position of service, it is more important to stay focused on the same core mission, which is to do our best for Singapore.”
Political observer Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University said her background as a unionist will endear her to the man in the street. The labour movement will have no problem backing her, as she spent 33 years at the National Trades Union Congress and left as deputy secretary-general.
However, Iseas – Yusof Ishak Institute fellow Norshahril Saat noted that some voters might think Madam Halimah is too closely affiliated to the ruling party if she steps down as an MP and runs for president shortly after.
The second prominent candidate is former Cabinet minister Abdullah Tarmugi, who was Speaker from 2002 to 2011. When asked if he would run, the 72-year-old man, who was part of the nine-man Constitutional Commission that reviewed the elected presidency, said he has not given it serious consideration. However, he added, several friends have encouraged him to do so.
He said, “I’d be lying if I say that friends have not been asking me about it. I suppose that is to be expected. If you look at the people who qualify, it is not that big a pool. But when my friends suggest that, I tell them: Hold on, hold on… It is still early days yet. And I’ve got to think of my own preferences, my life, my family and my privacy. This is not a journey I take myself.”
Dr Norshahril said that Mr Abdullah is a little more “detached” to the ruling party that he had retired from politics in 2011.
The other name proposed is Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, who wrote on his Facebok page last Friday (11 November), “When the time comes, I hope qualified Malay candidates will step forward to serve all Singaporeans… We must ensure that the best qualified person who reflects the values and ethos of our nation will be elected to the highest office of our land.”
Other than the MCI Minister, is the Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli. Mr Masagos joined politics in 2006 and became a Cabinet minister last year.
Key office holders are required to have been in the office for a period of three years. However, observers said he may qualify under the “deliberative” track, which allows the Presidential Elections Committee to consider candidates who did not meet the criteria, but have comparable experience and ability.
“I don’t lose sleep over that. Keeping racial harmony in working condition – that’s what I worry about,” Mr Masagos said when asked about the possibilities.
Observers also suggested former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed as a potential candidate.
Dr Norshahril said that Mr Zainul might not meet the qualifying criteria outright. However, he has had significant posts in the Malay community, having been president of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore and Mendaki chief executive, saying “He is quite an established name in the community… If you look at it on the principle of him meeting comparable or equivalent standards, he might qualify.”
From the private sector, one name that has surfaced is Mr Po’ad Mattar, a former managing partner at Deloitte & Touche who is a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers.
However, Prof Tan said that it is harder to ascertain who in the private sector will qualify to run in the next presidential election.
ST Readers responded to this news, with majority of the views saying that it is no surprise that all the candidates are PAP affiliated. Here are what they wrote:
- William Ng wrote, “No surprise at all. All are from PAP. The is the objective of the government, potential candidates must be own people. Don’t waste time and money to have PE la. No need to wayang.”
- Jeremiah Yeong wrote, “Come on! Where’s the equality we have in Singapore? President candidates should have an equal chances for whoever is qualified and fit to be one!
‘To build a democratic society, Based on justice and equality…’
Where did our pledge go to?”
- Hans Xpdc wrote, “Meritocracy is a myth here!! There are more pressing issues the Malay/Muslim have with the government such as Malay roles in army, navy, and tudung. Everything have swept under the carpet! Now PM. If we can have a president that wear a tudung, would you accept that wearing of tudung is not a problem in our diverse community?? We don’t need this tokenism for your own agenda. Thanks but no thanks. EP should be for every SINGAPOREAN that fulfill the criteria, regardless of race,language or religion …Majulah Singapura..??????!!”
- James Wang wrote, “With potential Malay candidates affiliate to PAP and wholly supported by the PAP machinery (behind the scene) what percentile chance has any outside candidate? Don’t waste time on PE. Just select and appoint the candidate as President. Simple isn’t it?”
- Ayu Keiko wrote, “Actually President election should be open to anyone to enter. After which the council would sieve out the potential regardless of race n run fir the election. It is the nation choice not one men say open to selected race n other cannot come in.
Hey this is not masak masak…its President election. So it is the people’s choice.”
- Kevin Then wrote, “This move prevents Dr. Tan Cheng Bok from running and puts in place PAP-compliant Malay ministers and ex-ministers so the parliament still have the final say.
Even if the president wants to disagree with the government on anything, the newly minted legislation gives the Presidential Advisors the authority to veto the president’s decisions and send the final matter to parliament to decide!
This basically makes the presidency useless, and makes prime minister the the ultimate decision maker! This contradicts Lee Kuan Yew’s intention of having an elected presidency in the first place!”
- Alex han wrote, “Can we just not vote. PAP has the mandate of the people already and we trust they will make the right selection for president. Don’t need to get us all involved to rubber stamp again.”
- Vincent Yuen wrote, “OMG..Is there a need to vote since it is considered a kelong case?!
Surprised and even sad that even at the top leadership of our country is going ahead with discrimination of the appointment of our EP.
I hope they know the Singapore Pledge by heart…regardless of gender, race and religion, we are all Singaporeans.
So why must the Government insist that the next EP must be a Malay?! ??. Let the potential candidates prove themselves and let the citizens to decide instead.”
- Cyril Tan wrote, “Although I’m a PAP supporter, I will love to see a president from the grounds, preferably not affiliated with the party. A guy like our late SR Nathan fits the bill.”
- Jaichandra Ramanujam wrote, “No need vote. Just choose one for the reward. I think people who are not happy will cast spoilt votes.”
- Yihong Daniel Yap wrote, “Good ,finally ‘Malays’ going to be puppet n the dishonour son who tells us not to be racist become racist. True citizen how and who I’m going to vote for?”
- Ahmad Ibrahim wrote, “Fairer to have representative from all the four races and let the people decide. One Malay, one Chinese, one Indian, and one Eurasian. Then it’s equality. Forcing the people to accept is not democratic.”
- Lee Chong Leng wrote, “Where is the equality? All are the ex-PAP candidates and yes men, thus no need to go for election as can be select by the PAP members as they know them BEST .”
- AY Hector Barbossa wrote, “Halimah Yaacob??? You’ve gotta be kidding right, ST? And I can’t believe we are still going ahead with this Malay president bullshit.”
- Tan Kong Wei wrote, “I know like that say. A bit strange. My opinion is, next year PE might as well not have election. Since all the candidates I know none of them except Mr Yaccob… So don’t waste time have election.”
- Tan Soo Hock wrote, “Who are the other candidates beside the pappies. An obvious cheap ploy to disqualified all others except their own And still have the cheek to give all kinds of justifications, insulting the intelligence of the common people!! The pioneer PAP will implement any policy they deemed fit, whether you like or not. That’s honesty and integrity.”
- Michale Ng wrote, ” It doesn’t matter if the President is going to be a Malay, Chinese, Indian or Eurasian. As long as they are PAP-related, he/she will only be an expensive, custodial puppet. Meritocracy much?”
- Stephen Hwang wrote, “If the government is really looking after all the people then from this beginning the next president should be an Eurasian and not Malay. Because we have so many Malay ministers and minister of states. We even have a Malay parliament Speaker and besides there are so many Malay MPs around. But look at Eurasians you don’t see anyone around not even MPs except a couple. Also Eurasians are our smallest racial group in our society unlike the Chinese, Malays Indians. I have old Eurasian classmates and some have already migrated to Australia and the reasons said that they were being left out by the society.”
- Vanessa Chen wrote, “This whole thing is a joke. They might as well just pick who they want to be president. In singapore, race should not make any difference as it has always been based on meritocracy. They taught us (in school) to see each other as Singaporean but now they talk abt race? It will be such waste of time if they want me to vote. I have no issue with any of these possible candidates. My issue is how this is engineered to be the outcome they want.”
- Robert Tan wrote, “Please lah what so prominent about them. Is it because they are with the PAP. Since so prominent they should contest openly in their own merits with other race. Why citizens are deprived of their right to choose a President regardless of race. Government should not interfere and stand neutral.”