by Teo Soh Lung
The Amendment to the Presidential Elections Act and the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore have turned out to be as troublesome and messy as the last will of Lee Kuan Yew.
Lee Kuan Yew made seven wills and a codicil within a short period of two years. Yet the great care he took in making the will has resulted in serious disagreement among his children and the emergence of a national scandal. Sadly, a private Facebook post has also given rise to the use of an archaic law (a law that has since been repealed by our colonial master) against one of his grandchildren.
The saga surrounding the last will of Lee Kuan Yew has not ended despite the prime minister’s attempt to resolve the matter in a special parliamentary session. The allegations of abuse of power by the prime minister continue to bother the people.
Madam Halimah Yacob has finally decided to stand for election as the first reserved Malay president of Singapore. The impending reserved presidential election has run into a storm. It has raised the temper of a segment of the population and has become ugly. Regrettably, the government is the author of this unhappy state of affairs.
I say this because Madam Halimah Yacob is capable of winning the presidency in a multi racial contest. She is capable of trouncing multi-racial candidates and would have won on merits. Her personable qualities, experience in trade union work, humility and qualifications and the fact that she is a woman would have garnered more support than other candidates. Bear in mind that we have never had a woman president in our entire history.
If the government did not amend the laws, Madam Halimah Yacob would have been spared the many indignities, insults and unjust criticisms now levelled against her. The high office of the president would not have been so demeaned.
I have high regard for Madam Halimah Yacob. At the nomination centre in 2011, we shook hands and had a conversation. I was a SDP candidate for Yuhua and she was the PAP candidate for Jurong GRC.
I do not think there are many PAP candidates who would shake the hands of a member of the opposition. Politics in Singapore is exceedingly divisive and toxic. It is one of either you are with us (the PAP) or against us. Madam Halimah Yacob is perhaps the exception and I hope that if she is elected as president, she will be as “non-partisan and above politics” as the prime minister had advised her to be. Indeed, I wish she can exercise her powers independently and without having to consult or obtain the advice of the Council of Presidential Advisers or the cabinet as required by the law today.
The Singapore government is famous for its frequent tinkering of our Constitution and our laws. The Amendment to the Presidential Elections Act is just one of the many unnecessary amendments intended to ensure the ascendancy of a Malay president. Instead of ensuring certainty, it has undermined the high office of the president. It has given rise to Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s challenge on the constitutionality of the amendment and what constitutes 5 terms of office of an elected president.
The government needs to relax and stop tinkering with our Constitution and our laws. Frequent tweaking of laws to ensure the perpetual survival of the PAP may ultimately cause its own demise. Needless to say, the people are the losers.