Sunday 10 September 2017

IPS Forum on the Reserved Presidential Election 2017

Reserved elections 'critical as president serves unifying role': Shanmugam
Post may be called into question if president always comes from the same race, says Shanmugam
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2017

The changes to the elected presidency to ensure multiracial representation are important because of the president's role as a "unifying symbol of the country", Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Without amendments to reserve elections for minorities, this symbolic role may be called into question - especially if "the president, term after term, comes from a single race", he added.

He acknowledged that some Singaporeans do not agree with the idea of reserved elections - but he noticed many would come around after being given the full facts.

Still, this is an issue on which "reasonable people can differ" he said, adding: "The fact that we were able to talk about it, debate it... in a way it helps strengthen the overall multiracial fabric."

Mr Shanmugam was speaking at an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) forum on the reserved presidential election.

He covered a range of issues related to the presidency, including the stricter qualifying criteria for private-sector candidates and how a candidate's race is determined.

His remarks come as Singapore gets ready to elect its next president on Sept 23. Only Malay candidates can take part in this election, under new laws that reserve the election for a community, if no one from that community has been president for the last five terms.

The minister also disclosed the initial plans were to reserve elections for two groups: the Malays, as well as Indian and Other communities. But feedback from the Chinese ground prompted the inclusion of Chinese reserved elections.

"When we discussed it with our MPs, past MPs, the Chinese intelligentsia, the Chinese media, the reaction was quite clear. If you have reservations for the Indians and the Malays, you better have reservation for the Chinese," he said.

On the president's symbolic role, Mr Shanmugam noted it has been part and parcel of the presidency since independence.

When the roles of safeguarding past reserves and the integrity of the public service were added to the presidency in 1991, the symbolic role was not "abrogated", he said, adding that in Britain, the most important role of the queen is also to represent and symbolise the nation.

The minister also cited evidence that race remains a factor when Singaporeans vote, making it harder for minority candidates to be elected president.

A survey by IPS and Channel NewsAsia last year showed among the Chinese, 96 per cent accept a Chinese president, but only 59 per cent accept a Malay president.

Such race differences are common worldwide, but many countries prefer a laissez-faire approach on race by the government. Some of them, including Germany and Britain, have in recent years acknowledged that such an approach has not enhanced integration.

In contrast, Singapore takes an interventionist approach, in the belief that leaving things to nature is dangerous because "the powerful forces (in society) are centrifugal", he said.

Interventions in Singapore include the introduction of group representation constituencies, race quotas in public housing and the outlawing of speech that hurts racial or religious sentiments.

Reserved elections are another step in this direction, he said, as he slammed critics for labelling these multiracial policies "the nonsense of 'race'".

This interventionist approach works, he said, noting: "You look at the state of our race relations in Singapore. I am prepared to compare that record against any other country. Compare it against the best in class. Our record speaks for itself."

A forum participant asked if the role of prime minister could be reserved for minorities, too.

Mr Shanmugam said there is a spectrum, ranging from complete laissez-faire to reservations for all posts. Singapore has chosen "a mixed system", with some reservations, he said.

"Whether you want to go all the way is a question of... what is doable, what the people will accept and also whether you need it... to strengthen our multiracial environment," he said.

Govt prepared to pay political price over changes to Elected Presidency: Chan Chun Sing
By Lianne Chia, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Sep 2017

It will be a “hard journey” to convince people about the need for changes to the Elected Presidency and the Government will pay a political price but it is prepared to, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing on Friday (Sep 8).

Speaking at an Institute of Policy Studies forum on the Reserved Presidential Election, Mr Chan stressed that as a young nation, Singapore had to evolve its systems to adapt to its circumstances – not just to meet the “here and now” but also to anticipate and pre-empt challenges that may arise in the future.

Mr Chan asked those at the forum to raise their hands if they thought the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) had and will pay a political price over the recent changes to the Elected Presidency, and the debate surrounding it, including the hiatus-triggered model to ensure minority representation

Noting the agreement of many in the hall, Mr Chan said: “Why, then, did we do this?”

“If we are all good politicians, we won’t and we shouldn’t do it,” he said. “No good politician would sacrifice his political capital for a problem that may arise in future generations. Most good politicians in the world would try to preserve their political capital for themselves to manage their current problems.”

“There are many conspiracy theories out there,” he added. “But for every conspiracy theory that is out there, I have a very good answer for you.

“If it has to do with an individual, then there are many other ways,” he said. “And if it is for political gain, then surely we are not achieving it as you have rightly pointed out.”


To explain, Mr Chan related a story about a conversation with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, which he said taught him the difference between a politician and a political leader.

“We asked ourselves - PM, do we need to do this now? Because we had anticipated it would be a hard journey to convince people and we would pay the political price, at least in the short term,” said Mr Chan. “PM Lee’s answer will forever be etched in my mind, and that distinguished a politician from a political leader.

“He said 'Yes, we are likely to pay a political price. Yes, we may not have a problem here and now, but what if we have a problem 20 or 30 years from now? Will the fourth, fifth or sixth generation of leaders have the liberty, and the luxury of time and space for them to put in place a system?'” said Mr Chan.

Mr Lee, he added, had taken it upon himself to put in place a system to pre-empt potential issues from arising in the future. “Not for himself, not for his political capital, but always thinking about what this country needs,” he said. “We are prepared to pay the political price, because we think the future of our country is much more important than any political capital that we may have.”

Mr Chan stressed that it was a “very difficult decision” to make, but the Government owes it to the future generations to put in place systems to prevent issues.

“If the issues don’t arise in future, then we will be very happy and proud. And we have done our little bit for the future of Singapore to be better,” he said. “But we will not be able to face the future generations if we have not done what we can within our means to establish the foundations for them to be even more successful than us.”


Another issue that was highlighted at the forum was how the race of prospective candidates can be defined, and what constitutes a Malay individual.

The upcoming Presidential Election, set for Sep 23, will be reserved for candidates from the Malay community.

Under the changes to the Elected Presidency, prospective candidates have to submit a Community Declaration form to the newly established Community Committee to certify that he or she belongs to the community which the election has been reserved for.

During an earlier session of the forum, the following hypothetical scenario was painted: A person who is born a Malay and is seen as such, later converts to Christianity. Will the committee determining the person’s eligibility turn him down on that basis?

In response, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, who was part of the ministerial dialogue, stressed the importance of having a mechanism that “leaves open the possibility of change over time”.

He drew a comparison between the current set-up – having a combination of a self-declaration of one’s race followed by the acceptance of that declaration by a community – and with getting “absolute clarity” by putting the definitions of race into the Constitution.

“If we took the view that the Constitution needs to provide absolute clarity at this point in time ... it would mean then that there would be no opportunity to have a change without making a constitutional amendment,” he said. “We’d have to go back to Parliament every time - if there was a combination of inter-marriage that we had not foreseen, to pass a law and redefine if this person is Malay or Indian enough.”

Dr Puthucheary added that currently, while the definition of racial identity is left ambiguous, the process is clear. “So what you have is a mechanism for the process of selection of candidates to reflect what the community sentiment is,” he said. “The mechanism also leaves it open for someone in the same position to then be accepted at a later time when the sentiment has changed.”

He explained further: “The trade-off is that you get the particular individual, having that decision made about them ... if you don’t qualify as being Malay, it is seen as excluding that person.

“But that person is still eligible to stand in the open election. And that opportunity to always stand - that will always be a channel. You have the same chances in the open election as anyone else.”

Pre-empting a potential problem down the road

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing on why the Government introduced the reserved election system:

"No good politician will sacrifice his political capital for a problem that may arise in future generations. Most politicians will try to reserve their political capital for themselves to manage their current problems.

We had a conversation with PM Lee. We asked: PM, do we need to do this now?

We anticipated that it will be a hard journey to convince people and we will pay the political price, at least in the short term.

His answer was simply this: Yes, we are likely to pay the political price. Yes, we may not have a problem here and now. But what if we have the problem 20, 30 years from now? Will the fourth, fifth, sixth generation have the luxury of time and space to put in place a system?

He took it upon himself, as the political leader, to put in place a system to pre-empt potential issues from arising in the future. For the country. Not for himself, not for his political capital, but always thinking of the country first."

Walkover or not, 'president represents all Singaporeans': Janil Puthucheary
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2017

Whether Singapore's next president is elected in a contest or a walkover, he or she must be a president for all Singaporeans, said Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary.

But Dr Janil said he did not have an answer to whether a contested or uncontested election was better, a question he was asked during an Institute of Policy Studies forum yesterday on the reserved presidential election.

Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, a former senior minister of state who was at the forum, noted that the reserved election was introduced to make all Singaporeans feel included.

But it had "opened a can of worms", and discussions during the forum showed there is "a lot of division among Malays, among non- Malays", said Mr Zainul.

To avoid such divisions, he asked, was it better to have a contest or not have a contest?

It was not lost on the forum's participants that the election, to be held on Sept 23, may be a walkover, as two of the three presidential hopefuls do not immediately meet the criteria to run for the highest office in the land.

Former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob is the only one who will automatically get the nod.

"The nominees are there, the process is there, we will have to see what happens," said Dr Janil, who is in the Ministry of Com- munications and Information, as well as Education.

His fellow panel member, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, addressed a similar question on how to reconcile people's desire to vote with the possibility that the stricter standards now may see only one person qualifying.

The decision is for the Presidential Elections Committee to make, said Mr Chan.

But he argued that ensuring a contest should not come at the expense of relaxing the eligibility criteria for any single group.

"I can understand Singaporeans' aspirations to have a contest and more people contesting. But I don't think Singaporeans would like to have different rules for different races," said Mr Chan.

This would shift the balance too far in favour of multiracialism, without sufficient regard for meritocracy, he added.

Presidential Election 2017: Question of who is Malay continues to be raised
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2017

As Singapore gets ready for its first presidential election reserved for Malay candidates, the question of who is a Malay has surfaced.

The issue was the focus of a panel at the Institute of Policy Studies forum on the reserved election, with speakers noting that the three presidential hopefuls continue to be dogged by doubts about their race.

They have declared themselves members of the Malay community, but some note Mr Farid Khan's identity card states he is Pakistani, and Madam Halimah Yacob and Mr Salleh Marican have Indian fathers.

Under the Constitution, a person is a member of the community he considers himself part of, and if he is accepted as such by the community, with a Community Committee making this call.

Ancestry, said ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute fellow Norshahril Saat, is a point that has cropped up in online discussions on what makes a person a Malay. But, he said: "If you follow ancestry strictly, then no candidate would qualify as a Malay. Inter-ethnic marriages have made this perspective irrelevant, and it is difficult to find a pure Malay."

Another view is that a person is Malay if he speaks Malay, follows Malay customs and is Muslim. Dr Norshahril said in Singapore, there are many sub-ethnic groups - such as Javanese - subsumed under the Malay category. "What binds them together is religion, language and Malay culture. Some Indian Muslims and Pakistanis associate themselves with Malays. They speak the language, practise Malay culture and the Malays accept them as such."

But law professor Kevin Tan asked whether a person born into a Malay family who decides to leave Islam would be accepted as a Malay. Dr Norshahril said: "I am not sure if the community is ready. If you look at the sentiment on the ground today... you must be a Muslim."

Lianhe Zaobao editor Goh Sin Teck said questions have also been raised when it comes to defining a Chinese. Religion does not play a definite role, and "the fact that you can't speak a word of Chinese doesn't mean you are not Chinese".

Asked by a participant if a person can identify as belonging to two races, Prof Tan said to laughter: "So long as you are accepted by the communities of those two races."

'Okay' to hold election after end of term
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2017

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday that having an election after the end of President Tony Tan Keng Yam's term is not unconstitutional.

Law professor Kevin Tan had cited Article 17(b) of the Constitution, which says that if there is a sitting president, an election cannot be held more than three months before his term expires. Prof Tan took this to mean that an election held after the end of a sitting president's term is unconstitutional.

Dr Tan's term ended on Aug 31, before the Sept 23 election. Council of Presidential Advisers chairman J.Y. Pillay is the Acting President.

Mr Chan replied: "It is not that you must hold it within three months before the end of term. You cannot hold it more than three months before the end of term."

This is meant to prevent the Government from prematurely turfing out a president and making him a lame duck, said Mr Chan. He added that this year's delay was a "one- time reset" to prevent the campaign clashing with National Day festivities. Parliament's support for the move was also sought and received.

Applications by 2 foreign Christian preachers to speak in Singapore rejected, both had denigrated other faiths
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2017

Two foreign Christian preachers, who applied for short-term work passes to speak in Singapore, have been denied entry.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the reason is that the duo had made "denigrating and inflammatory comments of other religions" in the past.

Its statement came after Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam cited the cases at a forum earlier yesterday. Mr Shanmugam said the Government takes "an equal approach" to all religions.

"Just as I have banned Muslim scholars or preachers from coming into Singapore, the most recent banning has been (for) Christian preachers. They were very Islamophobic in their statements outside of Singapore, and we decided we will ban them," he said.

One of the preachers described Allah as "a false god", and called for prayers for those "held captive in the darkness of Islam", MHA said.

He also referred to Buddhists by a Hebrew word - Tohuw - meaning "lost, lifeless, confused and spiritually barren". The Straits Times understands this is American preacher Dutch Sheets.

The other preacher referred to "the evils of Islam" and "the malevolent nature of Islam and Muhammad". He called Islam "not a religion of peace", "an incredibly confused religion", interested in "world domination" and "a religion based on... adhering to uncompromising and cruel laws often focused on warfare and virtual slavery".

Such teachings are unacceptable in multiracial, multi-religious Singapore, said MHA.

Running down of religions or the spreading of ill will among religions is not allowed, so as to safeguard Singapore's social harmony and cohesion, it added.

The two preachers had applied to the Manpower Ministry for their Miscellaneous Work Passes, which are for foreigners who speak at seminars and religious workers.

The granting of such passes is "a privilege accorded to a foreigner and not an entitlement", said MHA.

Mr Shanmugam also said that a review of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act is under way.

Lessons from the Presidential Election 2017

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