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“If we want a elected presidency, stop changing rules when they make you uncomfortable”

Below is a Facebook post made by former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, Yee Jenn Jong which was made in response to the recent report that the constitutional challenge by Dr Tan Cheng Bock was being dismissed by the High Court and reproduced with permission.

Dr Tan's application seeks to determine whether 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).

by Yee Jenn Jong

'Justice Quentin Loh ruled that Parliament was “entitled, through the passing of the (amendments to the EP scheme), to specify President Wee’s last term in office as the First Term”'

Entitled to but it does not mean it is the right decision that Singaporeans will popularly accept because we all know President Ong to be the first EP. That has been said so in the press, by the late LKY, by then PM Goh CT and by many others for so long, and written into our history records. Parliament could have, and I believe should have interpreted President Ong as the first term.

DAG Hri Kumar Nair calling Dr Tan's motives as "purely selfish and he has shown no regard for the principle of multiracial representation" is uncalled for. Mr Nair has been two-term PAP MP and long-time PAP member until his recent appointment as DAG. By his arguments, I could similarly call his one-time Party selfish for frequently changing elections rules and changing electoral boundaries at short notice to fit their benefits. For example, electoral boundaries were changed in late July 2015, about 6 weeks before GE2015. It is a ridiculous period of time for any serious opposition to prepare for, especially when entire constituencies disappear overnight. Changes to PE was rushed through early this year, months before the presidential elections, and after a very close contest in the last PE five years ago.

Mr Nair said that the principle of multiracial representation is important. However, if a sitting Malay MP is to vacate his/her seat to contest in the PE, the government has said there is no need to call a by-election to elect a new team, even though the team will be without a Malay MP for multiracial representation in the GRC.

Multiracial representation is important but the establishment has never put forth a Malay candidate for presidential elections even though we have had 4 presidential elections and a 47-year gap since President Yusof Ishak served as the last Malay president till 1970. In 2017, it suddenly became urgent to have a Malay president. Even so, I see no good reasons, if widely speculated that the preferred candidate is indeed Speaker of Parliament Mdm Halimah Yacob, why she would not be able to win against Dr Tan Cheng Bock or any other persons of the majority race. She has after all, won her seat very comfortably in 4 general elections and is widely seen by Singaporeans to be a good person to be president, even if she is not from the majority race.

The establishment has given up putting a minority candidate in an open presidential election without ever even trying, concluding that Singaporeans are immature and will vote along racial lines.

Perhaps the storm has passed for the establishment for PE2017 with the constitutional change and this court ruling. However, the EP scheme itself is flawed from the start. It is much easier to lose the election for the single president seat than to lose power in a general election. At some point in time in a future PE, the preferred establishment candidate will lose. It is better to just revert back to a president appointed by parliament and find other ways to protect our reserves against a future possible 'rogue' government. After all, in the recent constitutional change, a committee appointed by the government can now block the president if the president chooses to block the government from spending from the reserves. So much for having the president check any bad government.

One takeaway I have in the recent sad and public feud amongst the 'first family' is the reminder that Singapore should not depend on a single person, a single family, nor even a single so-called 'A team' party to lead Singapore forever. I have always believed it is better to build up our institutions and to ensure fair competition so we can have alternative views and alternate choices for Singapore. This include building our institutions to have a system deemed fair enough for all and not just for one party. If we want a elected presidency, stop changing rules when they make you uncomfortable. Stop ridiculously short notice period and unexplained changes to elections. Better still, have the elections department report to an independent body rather than to the Prime Minister.

I hope too that the days of suing your political opponents and critics 'until your pants drop' because they are 'not my brother' are over. Singapore faces complex challenges ahead and we need to be open that there are other alternatives than that preferred by the establishment.