In support of an open Singapore Presidential Election 2017
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The written Constitution of Singapore should be a repository of the most cherished values we hold as a people and also a bulwark of our venerable institutions.
Sadly, our Constitution has been subject to numerous attacks over the years .The recent episode over changes to the Elected Presidency Scheme is the latest demonstration of such an attack.
There was never a call by any Singaporean of any ethnic group for our next President to be a Malay. If race is an important element in the choosing of an elected President, it beggars belief that it did not surface as an issue during the period when the time scheme was first conceived and the interlude of almost 7 years until it was passed into law. The scheme was not cobbled together hurriedly as has been suggested, thereby necessitating substantial changes at this time.
The scheme was first mooted by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as far back as 15 April 1984 during a walkabout in his Tanjong Pagar Constituency, and again brought up by him during his National Day Rally speech on 19 August that year. There was intense media and public interest in the issue.
On 29 July 1988, then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong introduced the first White Paper on the proposed scheme in Parliament. There were changes and amendments made and a second White Paper was introduced on 27 August 1990.
Following a lengthy debate during the second reading of the resultant Bill on 4 October 1990, a 12-member select committee, which included key cabinet ministers was appointed to look into issues and make recommendations. The committee’s report was presented to Parliament on 18 December 1990 and, on 3 January 1991 the Bill was passed into law .
Moreover, by 1988, the PAP had introduced the Group Representation Constituencies ( GRCs ) into the Parliamentary electoral system in Singapore. Race is the very foundation of the GRC system, as all Singaporeans are aware of.
In the years following the last Presidential election of 2011, no PAP member ever expressed any concern that too many years had passed without Singapore having a Malay President until the issue surfaced in the President’s speech, opening Parliament in January 2016. If this issue is of such grave national importance as the PAP and the Prime Minister have made it out to be, why was this issue not put before the Singapore people in the last General Elections held in September 2015? And why has this issue not been put before the Singapore people in a referendum?
The PAP euphemistically termed the changes made as a “refreshment “of the Scheme in the President’s speech. In reality, they amount to an over-arching arrangement to kill off competition so that the favoured candidate of the PAP will triumph at the next Presidential election. It tarnishes the institution of the Elected President which is supposed to be part of the “two-key “mechanism designed to safeguard Singapore’s financial reserves and the integrity of our civil service. It is a betrayal of their proclaimed ideal of meritocracy which calls for the best person to be elected to the position of President, and it is a desecration of the Singapore pledge penned by one of their founders S. Rajaratnam – in which Singaporeans pledge themselves as one united people regardless of race, language and religion to build a democratic society.
We have come together as a group of concerned Singaporeans, from diverse walks in life and from a wide political spectrum, to ask Singaporeans to stand up and to protect our Constitution from constant manipulation by the PAP government to suit their selfish political needs.
We are pleased to note that Dr Tan Cheng Bock has mounted a judicial challenge to the constitutionality of the next Presidential Election being a reserved election. Even if it is now the law that there must be a reserved election for a particular racial group if no one from that group has been President after 5 continuous terms, it is clear to everyone of us that only the Presidential election of 2023 need be a reserved election. The next Presidential election in September this year should be an open election as there have been only 4 elected Presidents since the Elected Presidency scheme came into effect, with Mr Ong Teng Cheong being our first elected President. We do not know of any ordinary Singaporean who has taken an opposing view.
Since the PAP Government insists that the upcoming Presidential election is a reserved election under the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Act 2017, the burden was on them to explain to the Singapore people the basis of their decision. It was incumbent upon them to produce the advice which they said they had obtained from the Attorney-General, which formed the basis of their decision. This is no different to a judge having to give his reasons for a decision made by him. It was important for the Government to have made known the reasoning behind the Attorney-General’s advice because the Attorney-General’s advice does not constitute the law of the land and is open to challenge by way of Judicial Review.
Finally, we note from Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s statement issued after he had filed the proceedings in Court that Lord Pannick QC, the most renown British Constitutional lawyer of his generation, whom Dr Tan consulted, is of the opinion that section 22 of the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Act 2017, which makes the upcoming Presidential election a reserved one, is unconstitutional . That means that in Lord Pannick QC’s opinion, the advice of the Attorney-General was wrong. We must now await the determination of this issue by the Supreme Court.
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