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White Paper on the Elected President scheme is introduced 29th Jul 1988

Then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong presented the first White Paper, Constitutional Amendments to Safeguard the Financial Assets and the Integrity of the Public Services, on the elected president scheme in parliament on 29 July 1988.[1] The White Paper proposed amendments to the Singapore constitution that would provide for a popularly elected president over a six-year term. Until then, the president of Singapore was appointed through government nomination.[2] Although the White Paper was introduced in 1988, the idea of having an elected president was first mooted by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew during his walkabout at Tanjong Pagar constituency on 15 April 1984 and again in his National Day Rally speech on 19 August that same year.[3]

As laid out in the White Paper, the role of the elected president was a non-executive one. The person elected as president was unable to initiate policies or make executive decisions.[4] Instead, the elected president was to serve as a custodian possessing blocking powers over the government in two areas, namely, the utilisation of Singapore’s reserves and appointments of key public officers.[5] The elected president was part of a “two-key mechanism”, with the prime minister and cabinet holding one key and the president the other key, to safeguard the two main assets of the country – its reserves and the integrity of the public service.[6] To prevent the abuse of custodial powers by the elected president, a five-member Presidential Committee for the Protection of Reserves would be established as an advisory panel to the president.[7] However, the government could amend the constitution to remove the president’s blocking powers through a national referendum, and the Supreme Court had the authority to initiate the removal of the president through parliament if the president was found incompetent or incapable of performing his duties.[8]

The White Paper generated much discussion and debate in parliament with many members of parliament (MPs) voicing their concerns and giving their views on the various principles of the paper.[9] Following some additions and amendments to the paper, the government tabled a second White Paper, Safeguarding Financial Assets and the Integrity of the Public Services: The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No 3) Bill, in parliament on 27 August 1990.[10] While most of the proposals from the first White Paper were retained, several additional considerations were made in the second White Paper. First, the role of the elected president was extended to empower the president with the authority to check the government’s powers under the Internal Security Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, and investigations by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.[11] Second, the advisory panel that was originally conceived in the first White Paper was renamed Council of Presidential Advisers and expanded to comprise six members.[12] Third, a provision was added to allow parliament to override the blocking powers of the elected president.[13]

After the second White Paper was presented, the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No 3) Bill to provide for an elected president was tabled in parliament on 4 October 1990.[14] Following a thorough debate, the bill was referred to a Select Committee,[15] which presented its report to parliament on 3 January 1991. The bill was passed by parliament on the same day.[16]

Singapore’s first presidential election was held on 28 August 1993. Ong Teng Cheong, who had earlier resigned as deputy prime minister and chairman of the People’s Action Party in order to contest the election, scored a resounding victory over his opponent, retired civil servant-turned banker Chua Kim Yeow, to become the first elected president of Singapore.[17]

References
1. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1988, July 29). Constitutional Amendments to Safeguard the Financial Assets and the Integrity of the Public Services (Vol. 51, col. 478). Singapore: Govt. Printer. Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN.
2. Parliamentary debates: Official report, 29 Jul 1988, Vol. 51, cols. 478–480.
3. Full text of PM’s reply at walkabout forum. (1984, April 16). Singapore Monitor, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, Philip. (1984, August 20). Protection plan. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Constitutional amendments to safeguard financial assets and the integrity of the public services (p. 5). (1988). Singapore: Singapore National Printers. Call no.: RSING 324.22095957 SIN.
5. Constitutional amendments to safeguard financial assets and the integrity of the public services , 1988, p. 5.
6. Constitution lacks system of checks and balances. (1988, July 30). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7.  Constitutional amendments to safeguard financial assets and the integrity of the public services , 1988, pp. 5–6.
8. Constitutional amendments to safeguard financial assets and the integrity of the public services, 1988, p. 6.
9.  Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1990, October 4). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment no. 3) Bill (Vol. 56, cols. 459–461). Singapore: Govt. Printer. Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN.
10. Parliamentary debates: Official report, 4 Oct 1990, Vol. 56, cols. 459–461.
11. Safeguarding financial assets and the integrity of the public services: The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment no. 3) Bill (pp. 6–7). (1990). Singapore: Singapore National Printers. Call no.: RSING 324.22095957 SIN.
12. Safeguarding financial assets and the integrity of the public services: The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment no. 3) Bill, 1990, p. 8.
13. Safeguarding financial assets and the integrity of the public services: The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment no. 3) Bill, pp. 9–10.
14. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1990, October 4). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment no.  3) Bill (Vol. 56, col. 459). Singapore: Govt. Printer. Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN.
15. Parliamentary debates: Official report, 4 Oct 1990, Vol. 56, col. 718.
16. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1991, January 3). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment no. 3) Bill (Vol. 56, col. 718). Singapore: Govt. Printer. Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN.
17. Tan, S. (1993, August 29). Voters choose Teng Cheong. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

 

The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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