Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s constitutional challenge on counting of Reserved Presidential Election, dismissed by High Court

The High Court has dismissed Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s constitutional challenge to determine whether the legislation that specified President Wee Kim Wee’s term of office as the first term to be counted was unconstitutional on Friday. The application was heard by Justice Quentin Loh.

Dr Tan’s application (HC/OS 495/2017) which was made on 5 May, seeks the Court’s determination on whether a piece of legislation (section 22 Presidential Elections (Amendment) Act 6 of 2017 which counted President Wee Kim Wee as the first Elected Presidency term for the purposes of calling a Reserved Election), is consistent with Singapore Constitution (Articles 19B(1) and 164(1) which introduced the mechanism of a Reserved Election into Singapore Constitution).

Dr Tan in his press conference on Friday (31 March) asked the government whether it is correct to set the Presidential Election 2017 as a reserved election under the newly introduced amendments to the Elected Presidency and questioned whether AGC’s method of counting is actually in line with the spirit and purpose put forward by the Constitutional Commission for having a reserved election.

Under the amendments, a reserved election is set aside by the government for a minority race if no candidate from a particular minority group has been elected as the President after five open elections.

The government has said that the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) advised Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that 2017 will be the first reserved election. This is based on AGC counting 5 consecutive presidential terms beginning with President Wee Kim Wee.

According to media reports, the Attorney-General’s Chambers had accused Dr Tan of “running a case that is entirely self-serving”.

“He is advancing a strained interpretation of the Constitution so that he can apply to stand as a candidate in the coming Presidential elections. His motives are purely selfish and he has shown no regard for the principle of multiracial representation which Parliament intended to safeguard through (recent amendments to the Constitution).”

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair defended the Government’s decision to count President Wee as Singapore’s first elected President. Article 164 of the Constitution “does not impose any requirement on which President, or which category of Presidents the Legislature must choose or choose from”.

The former People’s Action Party Member of Parliament noted that the Legislature had “full discretion” in this respect, and did not make an unconstitutional decision.

In his written submissions to the High Court, Mr Hri Kumar argued that “the power to specify any past President enables the Legislature to end the hiatus for any community sooner rather than later”, and called Dr Tan’s challenge one that “undermines the longstanding imperative for multiracial representation in the office of the President, which the reserved election framework seeks to safeguard”.

Dr Tan’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Chelva Retnam Rajah, said they will consider the judgement and decide whether they will appeal. He will have till next Wednesday to file the appeal.

It is unknown on what grounds did Justice Loh based his decision to dismiss Dr Tan’s challenge. More information will be updated when the written judgement by Justice Loh is obtained.