Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Public hearings on Elected Presidency

Public hearings on Elected Presidency begin next week
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2016

The Constitutional Commission tasked with reviewing the Elected Presidency has received a little over 100 written submissions from groups and individuals, and will hold public hearings later this month and next month.

The nine-member commission, which sought views from the public in February, said in a statement yesterday that it carefully considered all submissions and decided to invite a number of contributors to come before it and clarify or elaborate on their written submissions.

The public hearings will be at the Supreme Court auditorium and are scheduled for next Monday; April 22, April 26 and May 6. The commission's secretariat said the public will be informed if additional dates are needed .

The commission expects to complete its report, which will contain its recommendations, by the third quarter of this year.

Headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, the commission was appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Feb 10.

PM Lee said in Parliament in January that the President has to remain elected, but certain aspects of the process have to be reviewed.

The growth in Singapore's reserves, of which the President is custodian, means individuals of character and competence are needed. Another consideration is the need for candidates from the minority races to get a chance at being elected from time to time.

The commission includes Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo, who helmed the Presidential Elections Committee that vetted potential candidates in 2011.

Also on the panel are Supreme Court judge Tay Yong Kwang, former Parliament Speaker Abdullah Tarmugi, Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, and business leaders Chua Thian Poh of Ho Bee Land, Philip Ng of Far East Organization, Peter Seah of DBS Bank and Wong Ngit Liong of Venture Corp.

The commission sought views related to its terms of reference.

First, the eligibility criteria. This must consider the President's custodial role over the reserves and public service, a role that needs individuals of character and standing with experience and ability to do the job.

Second, it was to consider provisions for minority candidates to have fair and adequate chance to be elected, given that the President is a unifying figure.

Third, refinements to the Council of Presidential Advisers to ensure decisions are made after careful consideration from those with experience in the public and private sectors.

Among those who wrote in were advocacy groups like the Association of Women for Action and Research and human rights group Maruah, as well as the Workers' Party.









19 groups and individuals to speak on elected presidency
They will offer views at four public hearings starting next week; WP declined invitation
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Apr 2016

A total of 19 groups and individuals, including former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan, will give their views on the proposed changes to the elected presidency at four public hearings that will start next week.

The Workers' Party (WP), which was invited to speak, declined to do so. The Constitutional Commission, formed to review the elected presidency, had invited 20 groups and individuals, who had contributed written submissions on the matter, to speak at the hearings. In a statement yesterday, the commission's secretariat said 19 of them said yes.

Those slated to speak include law academics Kevin Tan, Eugene Tan and Jack Lee, researchers Gillian Koh, Mathew Mathews and Loke Hoe Yeong, and former Nominated MP Loo Choon Yong. There are also groups like the Eurasian Association, Maruah and the Association of Women for Action and Research.

The WP said yesterday on its Facebook page that party chairman Sylvia Lim had written to inform the commission that the party will "debate the matter fully when the Constitutional Amendment Bill is presented in Parliament. This is in keeping with our role as a political party with Members of Parliament".

The WP added that the commission had said it would "consider our written submission nonetheless".

In a two-page submission sent last month, the party had reiterated its call for the elected presidency to be abolished, saying it could be a source of gridlock that could potentially cripple a non-People's Action Party government in its first year.

It added: "WP's view is that the office of the elected president should not be retained, let alone refined."

The commission, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, was appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in February to review three aspects of the elected presidency that was instituted in 1991.

In February, it made a public call for submissions on the three areas being studied. These are: the eligibility criteria for candidates; provisions for minority candidates to have a chance of being elected from time to time; and changes to ensure members of the Council of Presidential Advisers have experience in the public and private sectors.

The commission received a little over 100 submissions. It expects to submit its recommendations by the third quarter of this year.

The hearings, to be held at the Supreme Court auditorium, are scheduled for next Monday and Friday, April 26 and May 6, from 9.30am to 5pm. They are open to the public. Those attending must be properly dressed, and should not wear singlets, shorts, bermudas, slippers or any clothing with controversial messages. Photo, video and audio recordings are also not allowed.





Constitutional Commission hearing on Elected Presidency: Day 1


Commission hears views on having a minority-race president
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2016

The first public hearing on the review of the elected presidency yesterday was dominated by two issues: Whether Singapore should have a minority-race president from time to time, and what should be done to ensure this.

Said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon: "The real question is whether there is a concern that a minority president may be unelectable because of the reality of our racial mix in society and whether that's an acceptable state of affairs."

He chairs the Constitutional Commission appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in February to review the office. The issue is one of three the commission is studying. The other two are the eligibility criteria of candidates, and the experience of those appointed to be the president's advisers.

CJ Menon and seven commission members asked those invited to the hearing to elaborate on the views they had submitted earlier to the commission. Five Singaporeans and the Association of Women for Action and Research spoke on it.

While all agreed on the importance of having a minority-race president from time to time, to reflect Singapore's multiracialism, they had different ideas on how to achieve it.

During the hearing, CJ Menon said the president's role is a "fairly unique innovation that involves the executive creating a check and balance upon itself".

This is because many of the powers vested in the president, like vetoing the decisions of the executive, typically fall entirely within the executive branch of the Government.

He also made clear that the commission's task is to study proposed changes to the presidency and make recommendations.

When the changes should take effect is a political question best left to the Government, he added. He was replying to law don Eugene Tan, who said that with the next presidential election due by August next year, changing the criteria for candidacy "so late" could add an unnecessary political edge to the polls.

The commission received over 100 submissions and invited 20 individuals and groups to speak at the hearings. Only the Workers' Party declined to participate. Said CJ Menon: "We have carefully considered all the submissions and will have regard to them as we proceed with our work in the months ahead."

There are three more hearings. The report is expected to be submitted by the third quarter of this year.




PRESIDENT'S AND PM'S ROLES ARE NOT COMPARABLE


The prime minister needs a team of people who are going to put forward an active agenda for the nation and it is the role of the PM and his colleagues, and with the support of his party in Parliament, to carry through that agenda...

The office of the president, on the other hand, is a custodial office. It is actually first and foremost an office that serves to symbolise the unity of the nation... Accompanying that, there are a range of important custodial powers.

But at the end of the day, the way the constitutional balance has been established, you have a Government that seeks to get its agenda accepted by the electorate at large.

The question is whether one person who is elected the president needs particular skills or qualifications to entrust him with the power to say 'no' to certain of these items.

And that's why I think there may not be a directly comparable set of criteria at all.

The second point I would make is the prime minister is essentially a politician and it is necessarily a political office, and the elected president, although... selected through a political process, the office itself is meant to be non-partisan, non-political to the greatest extent it possibly can.

- CHIEF JUSTICE SUNDARESH MENON, noting that the criteria for president and prime minister are not comparable because of the different roles and responsibilities of each post.
















Participants agree on need for minority president

But they offer different proposals on how to ensure that one is elected from time to time
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2016

The issue of race dominated the first public hearing of the Constitutional Commission to review the elected presidency yesterday.

The people who gave their views agreed Singapore should have a minority-race president from time to time to reflect its status as a multiracial society.

But they differed on how to achieve this outcome, and proposed a variety of solutions.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan, 46, said that installing a legal framework to ensure a minority president would undermine the president's legitimacy and amount to affirmative action, which he said "is not in our DNA".

"Maybe I'm idealistic, I'm just very uncomfortable with institution design that engineers certain outcomes," he added. Instead, candidates should be required to show a track record of championing multiracialism, he said.

Associate Professor Tan also suggested candidates must garner a specified percentage of minority votes to win the presidential election. Ballots can be colour-coded according to the voter's race, he said, but conceded such a system may compromise voting secrecy.

The Association of Women for Action and Research, represented by its officials Corinna Lim and Jolene Tan, also did not favour measures to ensure the election of a minority president.

Ms Lim argued that the eligibility criteria to run for the office should be made less stringent, so that a bigger pool of people would qualify and naturally include more people of minority races and women as well.

The other four individuals who appeared before the commission suggested specific courses of action.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, 41, said if Singapore did not have a minority president for a number of terms, the next election should be reserved for minority candidates.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, said the provision had a "natural sunset" as it would not be invoked if Singapore progressed towards a race-blind society and elected a minority president of its own accord.

Dr Mathews acknowledged some might criticise the move as tokenism, but pointed out that it was up to the minority president to win people over by doing a good job.

In-house legal officer Edwin Yeo, 42, proposed what he called a hybrid system that combined aspects of appointing and electing a president.

A presidential council could be set up to identify one candidate in consultation with the prime minister.

The candidate must then be approved by Parliament and face a nationwide election, in which Singaporeans would simply vote "yes" or "no" on the ballot. Such a framework allows the presidential council to put up a minority candidate, who, if elected, will have the people's mandate to fulfil his custodial role.

It also avoids the divisiveness of pitting candidates against one another, which Mr Yeo said happened in the 2011 Presidential Election.

But a commission member, Justice Tay Yong Kwang, said the process could repeat indefinitely should a candidate fail to get elected. "It's going to be very wearisome for the public. They will go, 'Oh no, another election? This is the 10th time'," he said to illustrate his point.

Academic Loke Hoe Yeong, 31, and law firm intern Brian Chang, 26, suggested a two-person ticket in which one of the candidates would have to be from a minority race.

Mr Loke said the second candidate could become the Speaker of Parliament, while Mr Chang said he or she could be chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers.





Raising the bar 'could shrink the pool of candidates'

By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2016

The experience of running a large and complex company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million makes a person eligible to run for president under current laws.

Whether this amount should be raised or reduced was the focus yesterday, as the issue of who qualifies to stand in a presidential election was discussed at the first hearing by the Constitutional Commission set up to review the office.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan and Association of Women for Action and Research executive director Corinna Lim said raising the bar could shrink the pool of potential candidates.

They were concerned this could lead to fewer members of minority races and women meeting the requirements to run for president.

The issue of eligibility is among three aspects of the elected presidency being studied in the review.

In January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the opening of Parliament that the qualifying criteria are due for an update with the increasing complexities of the president's job as a custodian of Singapore's reserves.

Currently, a person from the private sector must have experience in running a company with at least $100 million in paid-up capital to qualify.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, noted yesterday that there were more than 2,000 such companies last year. This is about 20 times more than when the first presidential election was held in 1993.

He added that many who had written to the commission on the matter had raised concerns about the pool of candidates being reduced if the amount was raised.

He asked: "If we were to adjust the criteria or update the criteria in order to have a proxy indicator of the qualifications of the candidates, would it really have the concern of squeezing us into a situation where we don't have enough candidates?"

Responding, Associate Professor Tan said it was not about the absolute number of people who would make the cut. But rather, how many in the group will be from a minority race, and how many will want to run for the office.

"I would say many of you (on the commission) are eligible for the office. The question of whether you would want to run for the office is a separate question altogether."

He added the office requires "people with a certain temperament, people who believe they want to serve in that bigger capacity and who believe they can do the job".


Still, he agreed the criteria should be made more stringent. As Singapore's reserves have grown over the years, "we need a person who has knowledge and ability commensurate with what he or she has to safekeep", he said.

Ms Lim, however, proposed the criteria be relaxed to consider people who run organisations with a net asset value of $50 million, so that more can contest the election.

The fact that former president S R Nathan won in walkovers in 1999 and 2005 indicates "the gate is too narrow", she said.

Aware official Jolene Tan said that a president should be a person who best represents the electorate's vision and values.





Other issues discussed at Constitutional Commission hearing on elected presidency

By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2016

These related issues and suggestions were also raised by those who appeared at the first hearing of the Constitutional Commission yesterday:

CHECKS AND BALANCES

Law professor Eugene Tan said adequate checks and balances are important for Singapore particularly in the context of a one-party dominant system.

Acknowledging that the role of the elected president was akin to an "intra-branch check" on the executive branch that is the Government, he said: "Until we have a very secure and stable two-party system at the very least, I think to take away the unique office of the elected president... could mean that we are weakening the safeguards that we have."

But Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said he was not sure if a one-party dominant system is necessary to explain the need for an elected president. He said that even in a more "balanced political situation", the elected president could play a significant role in keeping that balance.


ROLE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS COMMITTEE

Prof Tan also suggested that the clause for a candidate's "good character and reputation" be removed from the qualifying criteria as it was a matter best left to the electorate to decide.

Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) executive director Corinna Lim also said that having a small group - the members of the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) - decide on who qualifies to contest the presidential election is "problematic". She added that it would also be ideal if the PEC's decisions on candidates be more transparent.

CJ Menon raised the possibilities of expanding the size of the three-man PEC, and strengthening the selection process by having aspiring candidates sign a self-disclosure form.

CJ Menon also raised the possibility that if the issue of character was left to the electorate, there would be a risk of the election becoming divisive and personal - and hence discouraging qualified individuals from coming forward in the first place.

"If we end up making character an electoral issue, squarely putting it front and centre, I have concerns that we'll end up with a system that is more divisive than less," he said.


EDUCATING PUBLIC ON PRESIDENT'S ROLE

Aware's representatives said there is a need to educate the public about the elected presidency because its complex nature may not be fully understood. Said Ms Lim: "It is an elected office but yet it's not something that is so easy to understand ."

Aware's senior manager of programmes and communications Jolene Tan said areas like how the president interacts with the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) and the PEC could be explained. Professor Chan Heng Chee acknowledged this was worth thinking about.


TWO-PERSON TICKET

There were suggestions of a two-person presidential ticket in which one candidate would have to be of a minority race.

Law firm intern Brian Chang, 26, said the second candidate could be a co-president or vice-president and serve as chairman of the CPA. He would switch roles with the president after three years, or halfway through a six-year term.

DBS Group Holdings chairman Peter Seah noted that the CPA is an independent body whose independence may be diluted if its chairman ran on the same ticket as the president. Mr Chang acknowledged this but said it will introduce democratic accountability to the council.

Political science academic Loke Hoe Yeong, 31, wanted a similar system. In his version, the vice-president would also be the Speaker of Parliament.


OTHER COUNTRIES

Mr Chang and Mr Loke cited Cyprus, Lebanon, and Bosnia and Herzegovina as countries with systems reserving particular political positions for certain ethnicities. Both said they were not models for Singapore, but were cases that should be studied.

Mr Chang said such approaches ended up giving rise to race-based politics and parties. He added that if there were conditions to ensure a minority member becomes president, it may lead to calls for the same approach to be applied to other key offices such as the prime minister and Speaker of Parliament.

But CJ Menon said the presidency is unique as the president is the "physical embodiment of the state", unlike other officials. Hence, it might merit special consideration that does not apply to other institutions. "This slippery slope argument may be more frightening than it needs to be."





Constitutional Commission hearing on Elected Presidency: Day 2

Call for campaign rules to avoid politicising presidential polls
Lawyer says candidates must declare they understand role before getting eligibility cert; not make 'grandiose promises'
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2016

A 49-year-old lawyer wants rules introduced for campaigning during the presidential election because the last polls were politicised to the point that unrealistic promises were made.

Mr Rey Foo proposed that before candidates are issued certificates of eligibility, they must make a declaration that they understand the role of the president.

Candidates must also not make what he called "grandiose promises" that are outside the scope of the presidency to fulfil, he said yesterday at the second public hearing of the Constitutional Commission to review the elected presidency.

But he did not cite any instance of politicising that he said occurred in the presidential polls in 2011, when four candidates contested and President Tony Tan Keng Yam won by a slim margin.

In making his suggestion, Mr Foo said: "The election process for the elected president should be of an entirely different flavour compared with the normal general election for Parliament seats.

"The style... in the past election was very similar to the political type of election. I don't think that should be the case."

To enforce the proposed rules for campaigning, a tribunal can be set up to look into complaints of breaches, he said. Candidates should be disqualified from running if they break the rules twice, he added.



Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, said the tribunal's role would be similar to that of an election judge who looks into wrongdoing during parliamentary and presidential elections.

Mr Foo said it could be adapted from the existing institution.

But former Parliament Speaker Abdullah Tarmugi, a member of the commission, raised the issue of who should be allowed to report a possible infringement.

If members of the public could do so, the tribunal could be inundated by cases. But if only candidates could file complaints, the process could become a source of conflict among candidates seeking the office.

Mr Foo replied that a candidate who makes a false allegation would risk his reputation, but acknowledged that the procedure needs to be fine-tuned.

When asked if he felt Singaporeans were clear about the elected presidency, he said that based on his experience, people did not have a full understanding of the role, responsibilities and powers of the office.

Schools should teach the younger generation about it, he added.

CJ Menon noted that others at the first hearing had also emphasised the need for public education.

It was a point he raised again when a group of Singapore Management University law students gave their views on the six-man Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

They suggested the CPA's advice to the president be published with the presidential decision for reasons of transparency, adding that it would help people better understand the role of the office.

CJ Menon said that implicit in this suggestion was the need for greater education. "One of the points implicit about this thing is that there is a need for people in Singapore to have an appreciation not only in the role of the president, the nature of the functions he has, but as well with the CPA, what the CPA can and cannot do."

In an earlier exchange with the Eurasian Association's representatives, CJ Menon said members of the public tend to focus on the president's custodial role over the country's reserves.

But the president performs other important functions as well, such as approving key public service appointments, he said.




THE CRUCIAL POINT


Your point is that candidates who come out and make promises in seeking election, in the presidential elections, are putting forward things that they ultimately can't deliver. Because they can't come forward and say, 'I'm going to drive for better healthcare', 'I'm going to drive for better trains' or whatever the issue may be.

All their concern in that office, apart from the critically important national symbolic and ceremonial roles, all they are able to do is to check, serve as a check and balance on the Government's powers in relation to finance, appointments...

And that's the crucial point you're making... that you have to recognise the distinction and therefore try to curb the electoral process so it doesn't unnecessarily fuel expectations that can't be met and doesn't give people a misunderstanding of the office of the presidency. That's really the critical point you're making.

- CHIEF JUSTICE SUNDARESH MENON, summing up the reason underpinning lawyer Rey Foo's proposal that rules be introduced for campaigning during the presidential election.











Eurasian Association calls for GRC-style presidential elections

By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2016

The Eurasian Association yesterday said restricted presidential elections, in which only minority candidates can run, are not the best way to ensure Singapore gets a minority president from time to time.

It proposed having GRC-style presidential polls instead to achieve this aim.

"We're not in favour of the restricted election where... we have a minority candidate stand (after a few terms)," its president Benett Theseira said at the second Constitutional Commission hearing on the elected presidency.

"We feel it goes against the grain of our multiracial philosophy and it may create unhappiness, forcing people to vote for a single individual who is of an ethnic minority."

Mr Theseira was at the hearing with the association's vice-president Alexius Pereira, honorary treasurer Martin Marini and trustee Timothy de Souza.

He also said stipulating that only minority candidates can run could create keen competition among minority communities and divide them.

Under the GRC-style election, two or three people will contest the election on one ticket, with at least one member in the group belonging to a minority race.

The group will then pick one person as a "front runner", who will be president if it wins the election.

The other two members will be appointed to the Council of Presidential Advisers.

But a requirement should be put in place that a minority candidate be designated the front runner when this method does not throw up a minority president after a few terms, said Mr Theseira.

He added that this way of electing presidents is similar to how teams are elected for group representation constituencies in parliamentary elections.

He said it would give minorities a fair chance of being elected to the highest office of the land, adding that it would affirm all races are treated equally.

Professor Chan Heng Chee, a commission member and chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said such requirements would make it a "restricted election" as well.

But Mr Theseira said the GRC-style election "dilutes the impact slightly" as the slate will be multiracial.

"As a society, we've had experience doing that in the parliamentary elections with the GRCs, and I think that is something that people are used to," he added.

Responding, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, the commission's chairman, said: "It's really a question of palatability, right? Because in substance, it comes down to the same thing."





Students propose three-wing council of advisers

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2016

Two proposed changes to the role and structure of a council that advises the president were made yesterday.

One came from a group of law students, which wants the six-member Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) to be reconfigured into three wings that the president can turn to for specialised advice.

These are: financial, legal and appointment, which will advise on key public service appointments, such as the chief justice and auditor-general.

But each CPA member can serve in more than one category, they told the nine-member Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency framework.

The second and more radical proposal was made by 28-year-old lawyer Ronald Wong.

He wants two of the six CPA members to be elected by Singaporeans. The six would then get together and vote for one of them to be the president.

But such a system could frustrate Singaporeans as there is a chance that neither of the two whom people elected could be picked as the president, said Mr Philip Ng, a member of the commission and the chief executive officer of property developer Far East Organization.

Mr Wong replied that in his proposal, the president would play a ceremonial role while all decisions the president is required to make would be collectively taken by the six-member CPA, with a majority vote.

This effectively transfers some of the president's powers to the CPA and gives it more teeth, he added.

"The CPA and president have to be seen as a unitary institution," said Mr Wong, who argued that his proposal will ensure the president's custodial powers are subject to the CPA's own veto powers, and will bring a consensus to the office.

Asked by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, the commission chairman, if he was proposing a fundamental redesign to the elected presidency, essentially situating the office within the CPA, Mr Wong agreed.

He also said his system is a "halfway house" that seeks to bridge the old system, in which the president is appointed, and the current one of popular election.

The law students' proposal largely focused on improving the CPA's effectiveness and transparency.

One of them, Mr Alexander Lee, 23, said the three specialised wings for the president to consult would improve the quality of the CPA's advice and make it more efficient.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang, a commission member, pointed out that the decisions before the president may not be so "clean cut" as to fall neatly into the three categories.

CJ Menon agreed, and added that there is value in the way the present CPA considers all issues as a group, bringing their diverse expertise and perspectives to the discussion.

But while it may not be wise to "compartmentalise the CPA into specific areas of expertise", CJ Menon said there is value to having guidelines that ensure the CPA members together bring a range of experience to the table, which would not be "unbalanced".

The extent of the president's veto powers was also raised.

Currently, the president's decision is final when he acts with the CPA's support. When the CPA disagrees, he may exercise his veto powers, but Parliament may override it with a two-third majority.

But CJ Menon said a third option worth exploring is when a minority in the CPA disagrees with the president's veto, and that veto can be overturned by a parliamentary "super-majority''.





Eligibility criteria should stand the test of time: CJ

By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2016

The question of how much to alter the eligibility criteria for presidential poll candidates came up for discussion yesterday, with the chairman of the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency giving his view on the issue.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said at his commission's second hearing: "What we're trying to do is to examine whether the constitutional provision can be drafted in such a way that it can withstand the test of time, and for that to happen, what we're dealing with is trying to define (the) criteria."

In doing so, the search is for a configuration of criteria that will yield "a pool that's likely to throw up a sufficient number of suitable candidates", he added.

Many who took part in the first two hearings, held on Monday and yesterday, had said the criteria should be made more stringent.

But they also expressed concerns that this could shrink the pool of potential candidates, and urged the commission not to go overboard in raising the bar. They were referring to a requirement that private sector candidates have experience running a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million to qualify.

CJ Menon said: "You can't set the criteria by looking at the individuals and say I think at this level we will have so many suitable candidates, it's because we know exactly who the candidates are. I don't think that's the way to go about it."

Yesterday, lawyer Ranvir Kumar Singh, 57, suggested that the amount be raised to $500 million, using Singtel as a benchmark. He said the company's value had increased five times since the elected presidency was implemented in 1991.

CJ Menon said the $500 million threshold would capture the top 0.2 per cent of firms here - the same proportion captured in 1991 when the threshold was $100 million.

Mr Singh also proposed looking at the net assets, governance record and profitability of companies, to determine if a potential candidate had done a good job.

Commission member Wong Ngit Liong, chairman and chief executive of Venture Corporation, noting it would involve a qualitative change to the criteria, asked if the Presidential Elections Committee would be making more subjective judgments when deciding who qualifies to run.

Mr Singh said the committee's members must be of a high calibre to be in a position to judge.

Another commission member, Mr Philip Ng, chief executive of Far East Organisation, said an issue it was tasked to examine is how to phase in new criteria, if any. Mr Singh said he had not thought about that.




Constitutional Commission hearing on Elected Presidency: Day 3

'Minority-only contest would send wrong signal'

Three object to presidential poll restriction, say society should be left to evolve on its own
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2016

Any move to occasionally restrict presidential polls to minority candidates would send the wrong signal that Singaporeans of minority races cannot be elected on their own merit, said three people yesterday at a hearing on the elected presidency.

Society is already moving towards race blindness in voting at elections, and should be left to evolve on its own, they added.

Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) deputy director of research Gillian Koh said: "We are in the process of working towards the idea that we should select someone for this office regardless of race, language or religion... If we stop this process now that would be a great pity."

Her view against having a legal provision to ensure a minority president is elected from time to time, was echoed by rights group Maruah and Singapore Management University law professor Jack Lee. They were speaking at the third hearing of the Constitutional Commission to review the elected presidency.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, asked if it would be possible to achieve the twin aims of letting society evolve and yet nudging it along, by having a provision to reserve elections for particular ethnic groups when they have not been represented in the office of president for a prolonged period of time.

"The question is whether making any such a provision is going to hold us back or spur us on," he said.

Dr Koh, who had earlier submitted her views jointly with IPS research assistant Tan Min-Wei, warned it could result in minority presidents lacking gravitas and political legitimacy.

Citing a publication by Malay self-help group Mendaki, she said some in the community did not believe in affirmative action even if they aspire to have a Malay president. The last Malay president was Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970.

But Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo, a member of the commission, said minority candidates too would be subject to the same stringent eligibility criteria applied to all candidates, and would have qualified based on merit.

Dr Koh said there would still be a perception problem.

CJ Menon noted that those who win elections in majoritarian systems are the most electable but not necessarily always the most meritorious candidates.

But there is no data, Dr Koh said, to show Singaporeans vote along racial lines at presidential elections, as the two polls that were contested, in 1993 and 2011, had only Chinese candidates.

She added that an IPS survey of over 2,000 Singaporean voters in 2011 found most were sanguine about a minority president being elected under the current system.

Later, Maruah president Braema Mathi said there are enough Singaporeans from minority groups who are qualified to stand and they just needed to be convinced to do so.

Dr Lee proposed that a committee be appointed to identify suitable minority candidates with the help of organisations such as civil society groups and unions, similar to how Nominated Members of Parliament are selected.

Ms Mathi questioned if the Government-led discussion had brought the issue of a minority president to the fore unnecessarily. She also said the commission should "watch the scene" for two or three more elections before deciding on any changes.

Professor Chan Heng Chee pointed out that countries that have avoided discussions on ethnicity have had to "scramble to address it in their own way'' as "the problem has come to hit them now".

In Singapore, the issue has been discussed all along, she noted.

Prof Chan, a commission member and chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, also said having minority presidents is a way of demonstrating inclusiveness, which is important in a multiracial society.

National University of Singapore law professors Jaclyn Neo and Swati Jhaveri suggested having a three- member council of presidents - with at least two members from different ethnicities - to achieve this.

They also proposed the institutions related to the presidency, such as the Council of Presidential Advisers, be required to have minority members. Dr Jhaveri said this is "part of a holistic view of safeguarding minority representation".


But CJ Menon asked if this would be "too interventionist".

It is important to have a minority president from time to time because of the president's special symbolic role, he said. But he questioned if there was a similar need in the institutions and cautioned against going down the path of entrenching group rights.





PRIVILEGED TO BE A SINGAPOREAN


I'm not sure we haven't done well. I think we've done extraordinarily well if we look at where we journeyed from in the last 50 years. I'm not sure I should be saying this, but as an individual and as a minority I feel greatly privileged to be a Singaporean. I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be because I feel there is such an open and equal-opportunity society. So I don't think we should be harsh on ourselves, saying the vision of the first-generation founding leaders has not been realised. I don't think the first-generation founding leaders necessarily thought it was going to happen in a decade or two. I think if we look at how we've progressed over the last several decades we've done incredibly well.

- CHIEF JUSTICE SUNDARESH MENON, in response to National University of Singapore Assistant Professor of Law Jaclyn Neo who felt that there was still a long way to go in Singapore's journey towards true multi-racialism.



PARAMOUNT CONSIDERATION

There's an intuitive sense on the part of many who have spoken that if you raise the criteria, that may reduce the pool of minorities... I just wonder whether we should separate the issues for a second and ask ourselves, first of all, whether the criteria we arrive at are adequate. Because that should be the paramount consideration... If the view is that the criteria should be updated, then surely we shouldn't resist doing so for the sake of the minorities. Because that would actually mean that we are, in a sense, lowering the criteria from what they ought to be, in order to accommodate the minorities and that gives me quite a lot of discomfort.

- CJ MENON, in an exchange with Singapore Management University law don Jack Lee about eligibility criteria's effect on the number of qualifying minorities.





Law don wants to bar ministers, MPs from endorsing candidates

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2016

A law professor has called for the elected presidency to be depoliticised by prohibiting government office-holders and MPs from endorsing any candidate.

Such a ban will ensure that the Office of the President remains politically neutral, Assistant Professor Jack Lee, 45, of the Singapore Management University told the Constitutional Commission hearing on the elected presidency yesterday.

Statements made by government office-holders may also have a "distorting effect" and influence how people vote, he added.

His call reiterates a point made by several others at the last two public hearings on the elected presidency. They had argued that the president needs to be a unifying force and the election should not be divisive. Currently, there is no rule that forbids political parties or the Government from stating a preference for particular candidates during a presidential election.


Dr Lee said any statement that can be interpreted by the public as an endorsement should be disallowed, even if ministers and MPs speak in their personal capacity. "It is very hard for the public to distinguish between someone speaking in his political capacity as a member of government, and in his personal capacity," he said. "It would be difficult; it would probably be better to say nothing at all during the (campaigning) period."

The ban, however, does not have to extend to members of political parties who are not government office-holders or MPs, said Dr Lee.

But Justice Tay Yong Kwang, a commission member, noted: "The strange result (of the ban) is that we are practically, during the run-up to the presidential election, silencing a group of people who have the most to say about presidential elections."

He added: "These are political leaders. If in your view this amounts to political endorsement, then there will be a great silence from the political side of things."

Dr Lee also wants the work of the Presidential Elections Committee to be more transparent. It should, for instance, give detailed reasons to a candidate for his or her application for a certificate of eligibility being turned down.

"It is important that at least the candidates themselves know... why they have not qualified, otherwise it seems very non-transparent, and they have no idea why they are not seen to have sufficient financial ability to run," he said.





Emphasis sought for veto power on key posts

By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2016

The elected president's power to block key public service appointments is more important and should get greater emphasis than the custodial role over the reserves, rights group Maruah said.

This is because the president is in the position to safeguard the integrity and incorruptibility of the entire public service, its representatives Braema Mathi, 58, and Ngiam Shih Tung, 49, said yesterday.

Under the Constitution, the president can veto the appointment or removal of key public service office- holders such as the auditor-general and the chief of defence force.

Mr Ngiam cited the example of Malaysia, where the attorney-general was removed from office last year when he was investigating possible corruption at the highest level of the government there.

"We certainly do not want to see such a situation in Singapore," he said at the third session of public hearings by the Constitutional Commission that is reviewing the elected presidency.


Ms Mathi, who is Maruah's president, said the elected president's function as a second key to protect the country's reserves has come across as the office's main responsibility.

But in its written submission, Maruah described this custodial role as a "red herring" and said the president's power over financial matters is extremely limited.

Mr Ngiam said it is undemocratic for the president to block Supply Bills, which determine the Government's Budget, as these are passed by Parliament - a body that reflects the will of the people.

But Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, questioned this notion and noted that the president is also elected and so has a mandate to exercise his custodial powers.

"In fact, some have suggested the president has a unique, almost national mandate because he goes through a national election."

Mr Ngiam said his concern was also that candidates are picked from a small pool of people who qualify based on strict eligibility criteria. The review of the eligibility criteria would shrink this pool and further limit the choices for Singaporeans.

This led the Chief Justice to say the intention of the review is not to reduce the number of people who can qualify to run for president.


Instead, it is to ensure the president has the necessary expertise to deal with the different functions of the office, he said.




Constitutional Commission hearing on Elected Presidency: Day 4

Dhanabalan proposes two-man presidential team
This will be for every third election, with one of the two from a minority
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 May 2016


Any change to the elected presidency to ensure minority representation necessarily involves affirmative action of some sort, said former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan.

His frank assessment set the tone for the fourth and final public hearing on changes to the elected presidency, held at the Supreme Court auditorium yesterday.

The hearing is before a Constitutional Commission Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appointed in February to review three aspects of the elected presidency: candidates' eligibility criteria, the Council of Presidential Advisers and minority representation.

Minority representation had been the issue most hotly debated at the hearings, of which the first three were held last month.

While broadly agreeing on the need for a minority president from time to time, speakers were split on how to achieve it.

Some worried that lowering the bar for presidential candidates on the basis of race would undermine meritocracy, while others argued that minority communities themselves reject affirmative action.



Yesterday, Mr Dhanabalan, 78, acknowledged trade-offs that had to be made and the tension between ideals and reality, saying of his own suggestion: "It's not an ideal solution but we're looking for practical solutions here."

Mr Dhanabalan had suggested that every third election be tweaked to ensure a minority president is elected from time to time.

Under this system, there would be two consecutive elections for a president who would serve a six-year term, followed by an election for a presidency with an eight-year term.

For the eight-year term, two candidates would run on the same ticket, with at least one of them coming from a minority group.

Each would be president for four years at a time, during which the other person would be vice-president.

This slate of minority candidates should be nominated by Parliament, said Mr Dhanabalan.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, asked if this could lead to criticisms of affirmative action.

Mr Dhanabalan replied: "There is an element of affirmative action in the approach here.

"And I think the very fact that we're looking for some special way in which minorities can be represented or can become president already is an admission that we need to have something special."

He also pointed out that the criteria would be lowered only "as a last resort" in special situations, like when people who meet the formal eligibility criteria cannot be encouraged to contest.

Professor Chan Heng Chee, a commission member, asked if under that system, a minority candidate would be left open to criticism that he was riding on the coat-tails of his teammate.

Mr Dhanabalan replied that any kind of group representation constituency (GRC) arrangement - where candidates run in teams - cannot escape that, as "that is required for the very nature of electorate".

He said that while he was never in favour of the GRC as he is an idealist, he also has to be a realist and consider "what can actually happen".

"The very fact that we're talking about making such special provisions for minorities to be elected means that we have deviated a little bit from the ideal situation," he said.

"The question is how far do we deviate."

But another group of speakers - National University of Singapore law undergraduates Grace Teo, 20, Carina Kam, 21, and Amelia Chew, 21 - were uncomfortable with affirmative action.

They argued the law should be amended to ensure a candidate is able to unify Singapore's different races and represent multiracialism, instead of needing the person to come from a minority community.

They were the last of 19 individuals and groups invited to give their views at the hearings, along with constitutional law expert Kevin Tan, former Nominated MP Loo Choon Yong, and lawyer Loo Choon Hiaw yesterday.

The commission's report is expected to be submitted by the third quarter of this year.




HARD CRITERIA ESSENTIAL


The PEC (Presidential Elections Committee) as presently constituted is quite small.

The more grey area where you make judgment, the more the scope for controversy and suspicion that not everything is in proper order.

So we should have as much hard criteria as possible, with as little leeway as possible for judgment.

But at the end of the day, it is judgment that is important.

If you set out details, a set of criteria, which elaborates on what the Constitution says, and which you can use to defend your selection, then I think that would be helpful.

But at the end of the day, judgment is key, and therefore the credibility of the panel, the size, the experience, the people on the panel, would be key.


- FORMER CABINET MINISTER S. DHANABALAN, arguing for concrete eligibility criteria to be spelt out for presidential candidates, leaving as little room for discretion and argument as possible. He was responding to Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo, a member of the constitutional commission, who asked how the PEC could be strengthened.





Two speakers urge focus on 'right experience'

By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 7 May 2016

In deciding whether a private-sector person is suitable to run for president, the focus should be on whether he has the right experience, said two speakers yesterday at the hearing on the elected presidency.

This experience cannot be determined just by looking at the size of the companies he has run, said former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan and executive chairman and co-founder of listed Raffles Medical Group Loo Choon Yong.

Instead, the eligibility criteria for such candidates should be refined to get at the substance of what he did in his corporate role, they said.

Under current laws, a private-sector person must have been the chairman of the board or chief executive officer of a company with a paid-up capital of $100 million to stand in presidential elections.

But Mr Dhanabalan, who is a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers and the Presidential Council for Minority Rights as well as a former chairman of DBS Group Holdings and Temasek Holdings, pointed out that paid-up capital indicates the size but not the complexity of a company.


He suggested taking into account factors such as a company's annual revenue and number of employees.

Dr Loo said shareholders' funds or net tangible assets should be used instead of paid-up capital. He proposed raising the figure to $500 million.

In earlier hearings, some speakers had said that beyond a certain point, a company's size is not relevant in determining a potential candidate's experience.

Dr Loo disagreed, saying the president, as custodian of Singapore's reserves, should have experience in dealing with large- scale financial decisions.

Citing his own experience, Dr Loo, who is also chairman of industrial developer and landlord JTC Corporation, said he "agonised" more when he was faced with decisions involving billions of dollars, compared to tens of millions of dollars.

"If you are not used to making these decisions, when you go through the paper... the numbers have no meaning," he said.

"It's not just how big your company is, it's also how complex and whether you are the one used to making these decisions," he added.

Both men suggested that a company's board chairman, who typically does not run the company day to day, should not automatically qualify, but be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Commission member Eddie Teo, chairman of the Public Service Commission, asked if it would be enough for candidates to declare the scope of their duties to the Presidential Elections Committee.

Mr Dhanabalan said it might suffice, but warned that an impressive curriculum vitae may not be a good reflection of a person's experience.

Dr Loo suggested that the declaration be made under oath. "If later on, it is found... he lied under oath, then there are penal sanctions. That will sober up anybody who wants to make a (false) declaration," he said.




A WIN'S A WIN


A win is a win. You have a race, a hundred-yard dash, and the winner wins by a neck. He wins and he's declared the winner. You do not require the winner to lead the next person by 50 yards or 10 yards. In fact, it is very respectably accepted that mandates can be on plurality voting, and a lot of Commonwealth countries, including Britain, have adopted this. So have we.

Discussing mandates and what constitutes a mandate can get quite academic, because if you look at situations in Britain and in the United States, not everyone votes. In fact, the President of the United States can be voted (in) by 60 per cent of the country, or 40 per cent of the country. Nobody questions this mandate.

- PROFESSOR CHAN HENG CHEE, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, responding to Dr Kevin Tan's suggestion to have a run-off election when a winning candidate does not secure an absolute majority of the vote. He said winning by a simple majority would not give the president a strong enough mandate to check the Government.




MAIN ADVANTAGE OF NOMINATION PROCESS


When we had the system where we had a nominated president, as opposed to an openly elected president, Parliament could choose and select appropriate members with the view to the fact that we also have to have some form of minority representation ... So you could ensure that the symbolic value of the presidency is maintained through a nomination process. This can never be guaranteed in an election. So this is the main advantage of this (proposed scheme).

- DR KEVIN TAN, responding to Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on what the advantage was in returning to a system of appointing a president.




OVERSIGHT ROLE


Why don't we just have another person or another group of persons to do that oversight and really make our system simpler? Everybody will understand there is a president who is appointed by Parliament... and then you have another group of persons, a Presidential Council for Review, appointed by the PM and so on, and they have one job: to blow the whistle when inappropriate persons are appointed, or when you want to draw on past reserves. These eight persons will say, 'Hey, stop, I delay you'. Sure, you've got a two-thirds (parliamentary majority) you can override, but you can't do it quietly, the whole world will know.

- DR LOO CHOON YONG, explaining his call for distinct roles carried out by a president and a Presidential Council for Review





'Restore former system of Parliament appointing president'

This will ensure minority representation, say law academic and business leader
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 7 May 2016

The best way to balance the responsibilities of the elected presidency with the need to ensure that Singapore has a minority president from time to time, is to return to the old system of appointing the president, said a law don and a business leader yesterday.

Constitutional expert Kevin Tan and Raffles Medical Group executive chairman Loo Choon Yong advocated a return to Singapore's pre-1991 system of having Parliament decide who should take up the highest office in the land.

The duo were speaking on the last day of public hearings held by the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency.

Dr Tan said the decision to turn the presidency into an elected office has made it "extremely difficult" to have an ethnic minority president.

Before that, Parliament could take into account the need for minority representation when selecting appropriate candidates.


It was "no accident" that Singapore's first president was Mr Yusof Ishak, a Malay; followed by a Eurasian president, Dr Benjamin Sheares; then an Indian president, Mr C.V. Devan Nair, he noted.

"Only after that" was there a Chinese president, Mr Wee Kim Wee.

This important symbolic aspect of the presidency "can never be guaranteed under elections", he said. At the same time, the idea of designating electoral cycles for only minority candidates is "odious to public sensibilities" and may run counter to the Constitution.

Dr Tan also argued that the role of the president is largely one of "binary judgments", like whether to draw on past reserves.

Thus, it is more important to raise the criteria for the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) than for the presidency itself.

A lowering of the criteria for the presidency will also alleviate the problem of not having enough minority candidates, he added.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who chairs the commission, asked if it could be problematic for Parliament to appoint a president that has to act as a check on itself.

Lowering the criteria for the elected presidency while raising the bar for his advisers also "shifts the centre of gravity somewhat", said CJ Menon, who asked if such a move would make it harder for the president to "stand up to the CPA".

Dr Tan replied that the "important ingredient" is independence, and that "just because someone is nominated and not elected does not deprive him of his independence".

This is similar to how judges are appointed, but can still serve as a check on the executive, he added.

To this, CJ Menon said judges have a slightly different role as they serve as a check through judicial reviews.

Dr Tan agreed, but said that once appointed president, a person would take on the role of the office and act accordingly.

Dr Loo argued that returning to an appointed presidency is the solution to the tension between two key elements of the office: to be a symbolic head of state and unifier of society, while acting as a check on the Government, particularly on the national reserves and integrity of the public service.

"You want this guy to be the nice guy, unifier, and then you want him to have what it takes to tell a roguish PM, hey, leave our assets alone," said Dr Loo. "I think these (requirements) call for different chemistries."

Making the presidency an elected office has also confused the public, which often thinks the role is to provide checks and balances on all matters of government.

Dr Loo, who made his submission with his brother Choon Chiaw, a lawyer, said a return to an appointed presidency is "returning to the system that has served us well - the Westminster system of government, with all its years of conventions and constitutional norms".

But commission members such as former Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi and Professor Chan Heng Chee asked if Singaporeans today can accept a return to an appointed presidency.

"We are in the world of participation now: Individuals want to participate and they want to have a say," said Prof Chan, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

While it is a reasonable argument that authority can be derived from Parliament instead of through an election, "politics does not deal only with reason - optics matter," she said, referring to public perception of the office.

Commission member Peter Seah, chairman of DBS Group Holdings, pointed to the importance of an election, saying an elected president "holds moral authority... because he is elected by the nation".









Key ideas raised at hearings

By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 7 May 2016

After four public hearings by the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency, The Straits Times looks at several proposals on how the office of the president can be changed.

TEAM EFFORT

A team of at least two persons runs for president on the same ticket, with at least one of them being from a minority race.

One candidate will be president and the other, vice-president, with the two switching roles mid-term. The vice-president can double as Speaker of Parliament or a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers.

A committee can be appointed to identify suitable minority candidates with the help of organisations such as civil society groups and unions, similar to how Nominated MPs are selected.

RESERVE OR LEAVE OUT

If there has been no president from a particular minority group for a number of terms, the next election is reserved for candidates from that group.

This provision can have a "sunset clause". It would not be invoked if a minority president is elected in an open election.

Another suggestion is to have candidates of a particular racial group barred from elections when there have been two consecutive terms of presidents elected from the group.

This applies to both majority and minority racial groups.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

To avoid the divisiveness of pitting candidates against one another, the system can be tweaked to have only one candidate. A presidential council will identify the candidate in consultation with the prime minister.

The candidate must be approved by Parliament and face a nationwide election, in which Singaporeans would simply vote "yes" or "no".

NO MORE ELECTIONS

By having Parliament appoint a president instead of electing one, minority representation can be assured.

An appointed president can still be a check on the Government, but should receive greater assistance from the Council of Presidential Advisors.

Alternatively, the two key roles of the president - as a check on the Government with regard to reserves and integrity of the public service, and as a unifier of Singapore's multiracial society - can be unbundled.

The president will then play a symbolic role and can be appointed by Parliament, while a council can be set up to safeguard Singapore's reserves and preside over the appointment of key public service positions, among other things.

HIGHER OR LOWER?

One eligibility criterion loomed large - that a private-sector candidate must have run a firm with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million.

Some felt raising the sum was necessary to ensure it remains a suitable proxy for measuring candidates' experience and qualifications, given the amount of money the president will be safeguarding. They suggested various ways of doing it, like coming up with a formula so that it can be changed to suit the times.

Others warned that raising the bar could shrink the pool of potential candidates, especially among minority groups.

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN

A few proposed changes to the role and structure of the six-member Council of Presidential Advisers that advises the president.

One suggestion was to reconfigure the council into three wings that the president can turn to for specialised advice on financial and legal matters, and appointment of key public service members such as the chief justice and auditor-general.

Another suggestion was for two of the six council members to be elected. The six would vote for one of them to be president.





* Constitutional Commission on elected presidency completes review, submits report to PM Lee

PM Lee to address issue during the National Day Rally; Government to give its response in due course
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2016

A special report recommending changes to Singapore's elected presidency was received by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, and the Government will give its response in "due course".

The Straits Times understands that PM Lee will address the issue of the elected presidency on Sunday at the National Day Rally, an annual address where he maps out the nation's future directions and announces policy changes.

The report comes six months after he appointed a Constitutional Commission, chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, to review the institution so that it keeps up with the times, including the possibility of having a minority candidate elected from time to time.

Mr Lee thanked the nine-member commission "for the deliberation and care with which they have carried out their tasks", the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said after getting the report earlier in the day.

"The Government will study the report. It will publish the report and give its response in due course," added the PMO statement.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan, a former Nominated MP, said: "The National Day Rally is a valuable opportunity for the PM to share his thoughts on the elected presidency."

Parliament may even debate the report as early as next month, he added. "The countdown to the next presidential election has started. The earlier constitutional amendments are made, the more lead time potential candidates have to adjust to them."

The presidential election must be held by August next year.

Political observer Zulkifli Baharudin said the public also needs to be educated about the changes as "they are the ones who will be voting the next president in".

Prof Tan was among 20 individuals and groups invited by the commission to expand on their ideas on changes they want to see in the elected presidency. They gave their views during four public hearings.

The commission also received more than 100 written submissions.

Mr Lee first spoke about the need to review the elected presidency in January, after last year's general election. Speaking at the first sitting of the 13th Parliament, he said the head of state should remain elected.

But, he added, three areas should be studied:

• How to update the qualifying criteria of candidates for the elected presidency.

• How to strengthen the Council of Presidential Advisers, which advises the president in exercising his custodial and discretionary powers.

• How to ensure those in a minority race will have the chance to be elected as president.

During the commission's hearings, the issue of minority representation was the most hotly debated. While most speakers broadly agreed on the need for a minority president from time to time, they were split on how to achieve it.

Some suggested reserving elections for candidates from a particular minority group that has not had a president for several terms. Others were worried that doing so would undermine meritocracy.

Constitutional law expert Kevin Tan, who spoke at the hearing, said: "It is the most difficult to manage. How are you going to engineer a situation where you will have a president from a minority race?"

Another issue was the qualifying criterion. Several said the bar for a private-sector candidate should be raised. But some felt it might shrink the pool of potential candidates, especially from the minority groups.

Currently, would-be candidates from the private sector must have run a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million.




Related
Elected Presidency
Constitutional Commission on elected presidency submissions
Elected Presidency: Who gives a shit?
Elected Presidency Constitutional Commission Report 2016
Report of the Constitutional Commission 2016
White Paper on the Review of Specific Aspects of the Elected Presidency
Elected Presidency White Paper
Elected Presidency: PM Lee on Race and Politics
Parliamentary debate on changes to the Elected Presidency
Parliament passes changes to elected presidency

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