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Gov’t worry minority-race president would not be elected, given present circumstances: Janil Puthucheary

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The Reserved Election is needed because Singaporeans are not race-blind and all underlying related tensions still exist.

“If all those disappear, we will not need a racially reserved election,” Dr Janil said, in reply to a student’s question at the opening ceremony of the annual Pre-University Seminar on Tuesday.

Janil Puthucheary

“The problem is that they are present,” the minister continued. “And we are worried that given that they are present, it would not be possible for a minority president to be directly elected.”

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Temasek Polytechnic student Ashley Liao, 19, had asked Dr Janil if he thought that it was “problematic” that affirmative action had to be introduced to the presidential election system.

Singapore’s Parliament had passed changes to the Presidential Elections Act (PEA) in January. The amendments provide for a Reserved Election – that is, if 5 consecutive terms of the presidency do not see any minority-race presidents, the next election will be reserved for only minority-race candidates to contest.

The election in September this year is a Reserved Election which, Dr Janil said, is “not a nice solution that we would wish on Singapore after 52 years of independence”.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we never had to have it?” he asked. “But it’s a marker of what we still have to solve. In my generation and yours.”

In the Reserved Election, there is a sunset clause which stipulates that if a minority president is elected in an open election, the racially reserved presidency will not need to happen.

The changes to the PEA had attracted criticisms from some, including former candidate, Tan Cheng Bock, who has filed a case in the court to compel the Attorney General to explain why the count of 5 terms would start with President Wee Kim Wee instead of President Ong teng Cheong.

Human rights advocate, M Ravi, has also filed a case with the courts, arguing that the changes to the EPA are unconstitutional because they infringe Article 12 of the Constitution which provides for the right to equality and protection under the law.

Anyone should therefore have the right to contest the elections, Mr Ravi argues.

The two cases are presently pending before the court.

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