SINGAPORE: Predicting that presidential hopeful George Goh Ching Wah will fail to qualify for the looming election, lawyer and noted socio-political commentator Lian Chuan Yeoh has opined that the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) should not issue an eligibility certificate to him “to respect the rule of law.”
Mr. George Goh is among four who are eyeing the head of the state seat, alongside ex-Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, ex-GIC chief economist Ng Kok Song, and ex-NTUC Income CEO Tan Kin Lian.
Although Mr. George Goh – an entrepreneur – has submitted his eligibility application forms, doubts over whether he will meet the eligibility criteria persist, given the new rules for private sector candidates.
Mr. George Goh in his bid for candidacy, claimed to be the senior executive of an agglomeration of five companies, with average total shareholder equity slightly above S$500 million. He has refused to name these companies that he claims are backing his application and has explained his nondisclosure by indicating he wished to avoid stressing the companies.
Mr Yeoh criticized Mr. George Goh’s decision to not disclose the names of the companies in a Facebook post published on Saturday (5 Aug). Asserting that this comes across as a lack of transparency, he wrote:
“His comment about avoiding stress is unpersuasive and shows a lack of transparency – even after his papers have now been filed with the PEC. Mr. George Goh has come up short in this regard.
“Mr Goh’s reasons for not revealing the names of the companies which he claims underpin his application are known only to him – but they may indicate that he in fact lacks confidence in the legal merits of his claim, no matter what he may say in public.”
The lawyer then delved into the historical context of the private sector deliberative track, highlighting the pre-2017 requirements for applicants to demonstrate similar or comparable seniority or responsibility in an organization or department of equivalent size or complexity.
He emphasized that this approach did not allow for aggregation, meaning that the PEC could not combine multiple positions to meet the eligibility criteria.
Mr Yeoh pointed to ex-presidential candidate Tan Jee Say, who had received a Certificate of Eligibility in 2011. He noted that the PEC qualified him despite ruling that one of Mr Tan’s positions was only equivalent in complexity, not size, to the required standard.
Arguing that the PEC’s decision was already liberal, considering the stringent requirements for eligibility, Mr Yeoh said that the 2017 constitutional amendments to the elected presidential scheme clarified that comparability would be applied to the organization’s size and complexity.
The lawyer wrote: “There was not any hint of an intention to change the basic approach to permit aggregation. While the eventual wording is complex, the structure of Article 19(4)(b) also suggests to me that aggregation was and is not envisaged.
That sub-section requires that the applicant hold an office for 3 or more years in a private sector organisation, and the PEC is satisfied that he has experience and ability comparable to the CEO of a typical company with at least S$500m in shareholder equity “having regard to the nature of the office, the size and complexity of the private sector organisation and the person’s performance in the office”.”
Mr Yeoh maintained that the wording of Article 19(4)(b) suggests that aggregation was not intended, and the PEC should assess comparability based on a single office held by the applicant, possibly two offices in specific circumstances – not five offices.
Given this interpretation, he said: “For this reason, in my view, Mr George Goh does not qualify for a Certificate of Eligibility under the private sector deliberative track in the Constitution and the PEC should not issue one to him, to respect the rule of law.”
Prior to the indications of interest from Mr Tharman, Mr Goh, Mr Ng and Mr Tan, Mr Lian had said that the authorities should reconsider the elected presidency scheme in its current form.
Highlighting the scheme’s flaws and the need for fundamental changes, in a Facebook post back in May, the lawyer expressed concerns regarding the lack of real contests and the limiting qualifying criteria for the Head of State position.
Mr Yeoh pointed out that since the institution of the elected presidency in Singapore, there have been five presidential terms, with only one occasion featuring a genuine contest. He also criticized the notion that only CEOs of the largest corporations and former senior public officials are deemed qualified to hold the position of Singapore’s Head of State.
He called this qualifying criteria “unappealing” and asserted his belief that a broader range of candidates should be considered for the role.
It remains to be seen what position the PEC ultimately takes on Mr. George Goh’s eligibility for the upcoming race, while the public eagerly awaits the committee’s final decision on who will qualify to contest against establishment pick, Mr Tharman.