Screengrab of NLB page on Ong Teng Cheong. Pic: National Library.

The death of Singapore’s presidency system

By Jackson Tan

Singapore’s own version of ‘Mother of all Bombs‘ (MOAB)

When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced during a Parliament sitting in Nov’16 [1] that the next Presidential Election would be reserved for candidates from the Malay community, the idea of meritocracy collapsed almost instantaneously. The idea of meritocracy, coined by our late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who had explicitly mentioned it many times in various events [2] as a strong foundation for Singapore’s success over the decades following the independence of 1965, suddenly disappeared under the radar of the current PM Lee. Even in job advertisements, any job openings should not be based on race. One word to describe this shocking decision is to quote a Chinese saying ‘睁眼说瞎话‘ meaning ‘ to tell a lie with eyes wide open ‘.

Why was an appointed president given the powers of an elected president?

During the Nov’16 parliament sitting, PM Lee mentioned that the triggering of the Reserved Election should base the counting of five continuous terms starting from the late President Wee Kim Wee who would replace the late President Ong Teng Cheong as Singapore’s 1st elected president simply because President Wee was the first president to be vested with the powers of the elected president. This brings me to my first question – why is an appointed President given the powers of an elected president? It’s like a Finance Minister exercising the powers of an Education Minister. Exercising the powers of an elected president do not change the very fact that President Wee was indeed appointed and not elected by Singaporeans.

NLB website and former PM Goh considered Ong Teng Cheong 1st elected president

In an unanimous decision [3] by the Court of Appeal with regards to former Presidential candidate Dr Tan Cheng Bock challenging the Reserved Election as being ‘unconstitutional‘, it was concluded that the Parliament has the right to count from the term of Wee Kim Wee for the purpose of reserving the next election for the Malay community. We all know very well which political party has been dominating the Parliament for so long and, honestly, this is very fishy. For many years, government website such as the National Library (see picture above [4]) and even a 1999 speech by former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong [5] clearly point to President Ong as the 1st elected president (see picture below).

Former PM Goh Chok Tong’s speech on Ong Teng Cheong. Pic: National Archives of Singapore.

Perhaps the National Library and especially former PM Goh should take a stand in this case.

Being ‘kiasu‘, I tried to examine carefully the definition of ‘elected‘ using Oxford dictionary [6] and found out that the word ‘ elected ‘ is defined as ‘ a formal and organized choice by vote of a person for a political office or other position ‘. How can the government be a ‘person‘ in this case and suddenly make Wee Kim Wee the 1st elected president?

How can someone with less than six years experience as Speaker be equated to someone managing $500 million of shareholders’ equity?

In an Aug’17 CNA report [7], it was reported that private sector candidates Mr Marican and Mr Farid will not qualify under the current eligibility criteria as their shareholder equity is below the required $500 million. However, the Presidential Election Committee (PEC) may exercise discretion if it is satisfied that the person has served three years or more within a private sector organisation and has experience and ability that is comparable to that of someone who served as the chief executive of a company with a shareholders’ equity of $500 million. The same report also indicated Madam Halimah fulfilling the public sector requirement though it didn’t explain how a Parliament speaker of more than three years can equate to someone managing $500 million of shareholders’ equity.

Who decides if you are Malay? ICA or special committee?

Finally, I highly doubt the legitimacy of the so-called ‘Community Committee‘ formed just for this Reserved Election as mentioned in a May’17 article [8] which states that a five-member panel is tasked with assessing whether prospective presidential candidates belong to the Malay race. Isn’t a Malay person already a Malay person just by looking at his identity card issued by Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA)? If a candidate is not certified Malay by this ‘Community Committee’, does that mean the person has to go to ICA and change his identity card? Can the ‘Community Committee’ override ICA?