Opposition Member of Parliament Chen Show Mao speaking in Parliament on the amendments to the Constitution which sets a tighter qualifying criteria for the Elected President (EP) said that Singaporeans are capable of choosing the EP based on character and achievement regardless of race, language or religion.
Referring to the President Tony Tan’s speech when he was elected, that he would be a unifying figure for all Singaporeans regardless of their political affiliations, Mr Chen asked: “Do the proposed amendments before us strengthen the presidency in this important unifying role? Does an enforced reservation of presidential election to particular groups of Singaporeans defined along racial lines best help the elected president play a unifying role?”
Mr Chen asked with the tightened criteria how many of our former presidents – Yusof Ishak, Benjamin Sheares, Devan Nair, Wee Kim Wee – would have been found ineligible to serve even if they were ready and eager to do so.
He also asked if the elected presidents Ong Teng Cheong, S R Nathan or Tony Tan acted so untowardly as an EP that corrective actions were needed. Without naming Dr Tan Cheng Bock specifically, Mr Chen asked if the amendments were meant to keep out credible presidential candidates.
Prior to the amendments, both the Executive Chairman as well as the Chief Executive of qualifying companies qualified to contest in the Elected Presidency. Dr Tan Cheng Bock qualified for the 2011 contest as he was Executive Chairman of such a company. Dr Tan will fail to qualify under the amendments because it specifies that an Executive Chairman will not be eligible.
Mr Chen in pointing out that the Government itself said that the EP was working well and that the amendments were meant to anticipate problems before they appear, said that the current role of the EP is more like the role of an executive chairman of a company, than that of a chief executive.