Former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Yee Jenn Jong has criticised the 2017 reserved Presidential Election once again, in a recent Facebook post.
Referring to Minister S Iswaran’s recent use of the words “convergence” and “coincidence” to explain why the Government’s anti-fake news law is predominantly invoked against opposition politicians, Mr Yee wrote on Facebook on Wednesday (8 Jan):
“It is also an unfortunate convergence that the 2017 Presidential Election should be based on race, after a fiercely contested PE2011 which saw the preferred candidate winning by just a razor thin 0.59% of the popular votes.
“It is surely by chance that the barriers were raised such that the Malay candidates who had rags-to-riches success were not able to qualify to contest because the assets that qualify-able candidates have to manage was suddenly raised up very high.
“And it must be a coincidence that most Singaporeans were surprised to find that the late Mr Wee was considered to be the first elected president when we remember from history that it should have been the late Mr Ong.
“Surely the mathematicians must find our coincidences a unique and interesting issue to study and find a computational model to explain.”
The Government amended the constitution to reserve presidential elections for a particular racial group if no one from that group has been president for five continuous terms prior to the 2017 presidential election. The 2017 election was subsequently reserved for Malay candidates since the Government claimed that no one from the racial group had been president in the last five terms.
The PAP government’s decisions to amend the constitution and reserve the election for Malay candidates was perceived as a contentious move since Tan Cheng Bock had announced his intention to contest the 2017 election months before that. Dr Tan lost the 2011 presidential election by less than 0.35 per cent of votes to the establishment’s pick, Tony Tan.
Speaker of Parliament and PAP MP Halimah Yacob subsequently vacated her parliamentary position to contest the 2017 presidential election. She subsequently won the election by walkover when two other presidential hopefuls were disqualified by the Elections Department for not meeting the revised criteria for contesting.
Madam Halimah’s seat at Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC has been vacant since she left the ward and the Government did not call for a by-election.
Addressing his party’s members and activists last November, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the PAP “must never, ever be afraid to do what is right for Singapore” and cited the 2017 reserved presidential election as an example of a “right thing” the PAP Government did, despite some backlash.
PM Lee told PAP cadres that the reserved election issue was a “political minus for the government, for the PAP” in the short term but added that he is “convinced that we did the right thing.”
PM Lee called the President a “unifying symbol” of multiracial Singapore and asked: “How would the minorities feel if the president of Singapore were almost always Chinese? In the long term, such a scenario will foment deep unhappiness, and erode the founding values of our nation.”
Back in November, Mr Yee took issue with this last statement and asked why the PAP thinks Madam Halimah would have lost an open election based on her race since a minority candidate that has contested past presidential elections has never lost in the history of independent Singapore.
Pointing out that it would have been the vote of Singaporeans if Madam Halimah did not win an open election and that Singaporeans should be trusted with their ability to discern, Mr Yee wrote on Facebook:
“Have we ever put a minority candidate for presidency and the candidate lost? No! Then why does PAP think that Madam Halimah Yacob would have lost in an open election? And even if hypothetically she did, it would have been the vote of Singaporeans? Are we not trusted with our ability to discern?
“A number of minority candidates from both the ruling and opposition parties have won in General and By-elections against Chinese candidates such as JBJ, Michael Palmer and Murali Pillai. With Madam Halimah’s credentials, she would have been a very strong candidate in an open contest.”
Asserting that Singaporeans are not unhappy with Madam Halimah as a person but are frustrated with the process that deprived them of their opportunity to elect a president in an open contest, Mr Yee continued:
“The crux of Singaporeans’ unhappiness is not with Madam Halimah as a person but with the whole process that deprived Singaporeans of a once-in-6-years opportunity to be able to exercise their democratic rights to elect a president.
“The constitution was changed and rushed out in time to force the last PE into a contest reserved for Malays only and with a much disputed view that the EP term actually started with the late President Wee and not with the late President Ong as Singaporeans knew it to be.
“Furthermore, the bar was raised for those from the private sector such that two very successful and willing Malay candidates with rags-to-riches stories who could have qualified under the old rules were also not able to stand for election.”
Pointing out that PM Lee’s statement on the importance of racial equality for the President contradicts the Government’s repeated claims that Singaporeans are not ready for a non-Chinese PM, Mr Yee asked:
“Singapore never ever had a non-Chinese Prime Minister. We have had minority races as presidents four times before Madam Halimah, including the late President Nathan being elected president for two terms.
“Should we be concerned about how minorities would feel that year and after since independence Singapore has always had a Chinese PM? Are we ready for a non-Chinese PM? Why not? I am ready.
“By constantly saying that Singapore is not ready for a non-chinese PM, in the long term, would we foment deep unhappiness and erode the founding values of our nation?
“Of course, the PM is selected by the party that forms the majority in a GE and it is their choice of who they wish to lead the party and the country. But do we need to be constantly told that we are not ready for one?”