The upcoming Presidential Election (PE) that was due to be held on or before 26 August 2017, has been announced by the Government to be held in September to avoid clashing with National Day celebrations.
In light of the change of election date, an Acting President will assume the office after the current President, Dr Tony Tan when his term expires on 31 August, until his successor is elected.
It is stated that the period during which the Acting President shall exercise the functions of the office should not exceed one month, from Sept 1 to the date of assumption of office by the new Elected President.
The Constitution provides for the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) – a position currently held by Mr J Y Pillay – to be the Acting President. If the CPA chairman is unavailable, the Speaker of Parliament will be next considered.
Presenting the Government’s statement on the Presidential Election (Amendment) Bill, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing said in the second reading of the bill that the Government had sought the advice of the Attorney-General’s Chambers, which confirmed that the timing of the PE this year can be adjusted under current laws.
Noting that the Government will have to amend the Constitution if it wishes to extend Dr Tan’s term, Mr Chan said: “Given the slightly longer time required for the new process and to avoid holding Presidential Election campaigns during the National Day celebrations, we will adjust the timing of the polls for the forthcoming elections… this resets the clock, so that, in future, Presidential Elections campaigning will take place outside of the National Day period, assuming Presidents serve their full six-year terms.”
In the previous PE held in 2011, the writ of election was issued in the first week of August, and campaigning started after National Day and carried on throughout the month.
While there were concerns voiced during the Constitutional Committee tasked with reviewing the Elected Presidency scheme that the keenly-contested 2011 PE was politicised by candidates proposing for an alternative check on the government, this has been largely the fear of the ruling party, People’s Action Party that the population would eventually elect a president that is not of its choice.
Dr Tan Cheng Bock nearly won the election from the PAP endorsed candidate, Dr Tony Tan back in 2011, losing a mere 0.34% after a recount, when Dr Tony Tan’s camp contested against an earlier voting count of 0.36% win from Dr Tan Cheng Bock.
In view of the committee’s recommendation to depoliticise the election, the Government will no longer designate sites for candidates to hold rallies. “Campaign methods for PEs must not inflame emotions and must be in keeping with the decorum and dignity of the office of the President, given the important unifying and custodial roles of the President,” Mr Chan said. He added that rallies, “by their nature and format, may be divisive and not congruent with the unifying role of the Elected Presidency” .
Candidates may still hold rallies if they wish to, but they have to apply to the Police for a permit and the application will be assessed based on public order considerations.
The Government will increase the amount of television airtime for candidates and it will study different options to achieve this. Details will be announced later. Candidates can continue to use social media platforms to reach voters and can also hold indoor private sessions to engage specific groups of voters, said Mr Chan.
Last year, changes were steamrolled upon the Elected Presidency scheme under the Consitution of Republic of Singapore (Amendment) bill by the majority of Parliament, PAP Members of Parliament with all Workers’ Party MPs opposing the bill. The changes include a mechanism that reserves an election for a particular ethnicity that has not had an elected representative for five consecutive terms and higher qualifying criteria for the would-be candidate. Changes that many feel are meant to disqualify Dr Tan Cheng Bock from standing in this upcoming election.