On Friday, Dr Tan Cheng Bock urged the Government to make the next Presidential Election (PE) an open one and not one reserved for a minority candidate. Under the Constitutional Amendments passed in November, if there is not a President from a particular race for five consecutive terms, then the next term will be reserved for a President from that community.
The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) had earlier advised the Prime Minister to start counting the five terms from President Wee Kim Wee – who served one term from 1985 to 1993 – in looking at the new electoral process. Dr Tan called the AGC’s advice to the Government into question.
Dr Tan did not dispute the Constitutional Commission’s Recommendations for amendments to the PE, but referencing several Parliamentary records, newspaper clippings, and the fact that the Prime Minister had only issued 4 writs of PE, he asked how the AGC arrived at the conclusion that President Wee (and not President Ong Teng Cheong) was the first Elected President.
The Government responded to Dr Tan’s questions on the same day to say that it will not respond to him. It said that he needs no new response because “has not raised any new points that require response”. It instead faulted Dr Tan for not participating in the extensive consultations and public hearings on the Elected Presidency.
Dr Tan has now shot back at the Government to say that it has “missed his point totally”.
In faulting the Government for brushing off his press conference, Dr tan reiterated that he “did not dispute the Constitutional Commission’s report or the White Paper.” But that he disagreed “with the way the Government has triggered the reserved election.”
“I am simply asking if the government’s counting from President Wee Kim Wee FOLLOWED the SPIRIT AND PURPOSE that was proposed by the Constitutional Commission. The Constitutional Commission has said that a reserved election will be triggered if 5 open elections produce no minority President. So far we have 4 open elections with no minority Malay President. So 2017 must remain an open election and if no minority Malay President wins in 2017, than a reserved election will be triggered in 2023.
The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) used a different format.
AGC advised the Government to count the 5 year hiatus using “ 5 consecutive terms of Presidents who exercised elected powers” to include 1 nominated President and 4 openly elected Presidents. This is not in line with the spirit and purpose of the Constitutional Commission’s Report of 5 open elections.
I’ve given my reasons why we should rightly count from our 1st openly elected President Ong Teng Cheong. It’s the government’s turn to give their reasons why they choose to count differently, having accepted the report. Why change the format?” – Dr Tan, in a Facebook comment, dated 2 April 2017
In a Facebook note addressed to the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), Dr Tan reminded the Government that in February 2017, when an MP asked the rationale for counting President Wee as the first Elected President, she was brushed off without any debate on the topic.
“(Sylvia) Lim said, “We were told that the advice was to count from President Wee Kim Wee who was then the first president to exercise the powers of an elected president. This advice was surprising and illogical to many Singaporeans given that President Wee Kim Wee was never elected to office.”
Wee was an appointed president in 1985, and during his second term, the Constitution was amended in 1991 to allow for direct presidential elections.
In response, Chan (Chun Sing) asked, “Are you suggesting the Attorney-General did not give the government the appropriate advice? Or that the Prime Minister has not been truthful with the Attorney-General’s advice?
“If it’s the first, then I think Miss Lim, as suggested by DPM Teo (Chee Hean), can challenge this in the courts. But if it’s the second, then I’m afraid it’s a very serious issue to cast aspersions on the integrity of our Prime Minister.”
Lim said the government’s decision to count from Wee as the first elected president was “arbitrary” and not a matter of getting legal advice to interpret any existing laws.” – ‘Sylvia Lim, Chan Chun Sing spar over issue of first elected president’, Yahoo Singapore, 6 Feb 2017
“Singaporeans need to know the truth on such an important Constitutional matter,” said Dr Tan. He added: “this is a chance for the Government to explain.”