Elected presidency



Elected presidency was legislated in Singapore in 1991 to help safeguard Singapore’s national reserves and ensure the integrity of the public service.1 The powers of an elected president was first exercised by the incumbent president, Wee Kim Wee.2 Singapore’s first elected president, Ong Teng Cheong, took office on 1 September 1993.

Background
The idea for Singapore to have a president who could help safeguard the national reserves was first broached by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew during his walkabout forum at his Tanjong Pagar constituency on 15 April 1984.3 This was again raised by Lee during his National Day Rally speech that year on 19 August.4


Legislative action
On 27 July 1988, then First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Goh Chok Tong presented the first white paper on elected presidency in Parliament.5 The white paper set out proposals to amend the Constitution to institute a president elected by the people to safeguard the nation’s reserves and assets as well as to protect the integrity of the public services.6 Parliament debated the proposals on 11 and 12 August, and the principles delineated in the white paper were supported by Parliament to be the basis for preparing a bill on elected presidency.7

On 27 August 1990, a second white paper on elected presidency was presented in Parliament.8 In this iteration, three safeguard roles for the president were added, which proposed to mandate the president’s concurrence relating to the Internal Security Act, the then forthcoming Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.9

The resultant Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill had its first reading in Parliament on 30 August 1990.10 Following a lengthy debate during the second reading of the bill on 4 October 1990, a 12-member select committee, which included key cabinet ministers and one opposition member, was appointed to look into issues and make recommendations.11 The committee’s report was presented to Parliament on 18 December 1990.12 On 3 January 1991, the bill was passed into law13 and partially came into effect on 1 February 1991.14 The sections pertaining to the president’s roles in safeguarding the reserves and integrity of the public services commenced on 30 November 1991.15

Incumbent President Wee Kim Wee exercised the new powers from the time the legislation was enacted until 1 September 1993 when he stepped down.16

Description
Criteria for presidential candidate
Under the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Act 1991, the presidential candidate must be at least 45 years old and have at least three years’ experience as a minister; chief justice; speaker of Parliament; attorney-general; chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC); permanent secretary; auditor-general; account-general; chairman or chief executive officer of a statutory board; or chairman of the board of directors or chief executive officer of a company with a paid-up capital of at least S$100 million. The candidate may also have a comparable track record in any public or private organisation that the Presidential Elections Committee deems suitable.17

The Presidential Elections Committee determines whether a candidate for election fulfils the criteria, issuing certificates to those who do. The committee comprises the chairman of the PSC; chairman of the Public Accountants Board; and a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights nominated by the council’s chairman. The committee is chaired by the PSC chairman.18

Powers
The elected president serves a six-year term and has veto powers over the spending of national reserves and monetary policies as well as over the appointments of key positions in the civil service, government companies and statutory boards.19 The president appoints the prime minister and has the right to withhold consent for the dissolution of Parliament.20

The president may veto the government’s proposals in the following areas:21

• use of past reserves that is not accumulated by the government during its current term of office;
• appointment and removal of key office holders in the public service and in the statutory boards and government companies that are listed in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution;
• changes to investment powers of the Central Provident Fund Board;
• Restraining Orders under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act;
• continued detention under the Internal Security Act; and
• refusal of investigations by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

The president’s discretionary powers checks the government by preventing the misuse of the nation’s reserves and ensuring that the public service is impartial. The president must consult the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) on matters relating to past reserves and the appointment and removal of key office holders. If the president vetoes the government’s decision to drawdown on past reserves or the appointment or removal of any key office holder, and the president’s decision is contrary to the CPA’s advice, Parliament may overrule the president’s decision with a two-thirds majority vote. On other matters involving the president’s discretionary powers, the president’s decision is final.22

First election

Nomination day for the first presidential election was on 18 August 1993.23 The Presidential Elections Committee issued two certificates – one to Ong Teng Cheong, who had resigned as deputy prime minister and chairman of the People’s Action Party (PAP) to stand for election; and the other to Chua Kim Yeow, former accountant-general and retired executive chairman of the Post Office Savings Bank.24

On 28 August, polling day, Ong received 58.7 percent of the votes and was sworn in as Singapore’s first elected president on 1 September 1993.25 At the end of his term in 1999, Ong worked with the government to develop a set of working principles in 1999 to guide the actual implementation of the constitutional safeguards.26 The resulting white paper, The Principles for Determining and Safeguarding the Accumulated Reserves of the Government and the Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Government Companies,27 was approved by the Cabinet on 13 May 1999 and tabled in Parliament on 2 July 1999.28 Ong held office for six years till 31 August 1999.29

Subsequent elections

Ong was succeeded by S. R. Nathan, who was elected unopposed as there were no other eligible candidates.30 S. R. Nathan was re-elected for a second six-year term in 2005, unopposed again.31 Tony Tan Keng Yam was sworn in on 1 September 2011 as the seventh president of the Republic of Singapore.32

Recent developments
In February 2016, the government appointed the Constitutional Commission, chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, to study and make recommendations on specific aspects of the elected presidency. The areas to be examined pertained to the qualifying process and the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates; minority representation in the presidential office; and the role and composition of the CPA.33 

In August 2016, the commission submitted its report after a nationwide consultation process, and on 15 September the government issued a white paper on the proposed changes.34 The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill had its first reading on 10 October 2016, the second on 7 November, and was read a third time and passed on 9 November.35 The salient changes to the elected presidency affect Article 19, which pertains to the qualifying criteria of presidential candidates:

• the entire qualifying tenure of the applicant’s experience must fall within the 20-year period immediately preceding the relevant Nomination Day;36
• private sector candidates must have served as the chief executive officer for a minimum of three years, of a company with at least S$500 million in shareholders’ equity;37 and
• reserving the presidential election for a candidate from a racial group that has not occupied the president’s office for five or more consecutive terms;38

Other changes include the general time limit of between 30 days to six weeks for the president to exercise discretionary powers on different matters;39 and increasing the composition of the CPA from six to eight members.40

On 8 November 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the next presidential election in 2017 would be reserved for Malay candidates, as Singapore has not had a Malay president since the introduction of the elected presidency scheme.41 On 14 September 2017, Halimah Yacob, the former speaker of Parliament, became Singapore's first female president after a walkover victory because there were no other eligible candidates.42



Authors
Veronica Chee, Rajendran Munoo & Gladys Low



References
1. Tan, K. (1997). The presidency in Singapore: Constitutional developments. In K. Tan & P. E. Lam (Eds.), Managing political change in Singapore: The elected presidency. London, New York: Routledge, pp. 54–55. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 MAN)
2. All the president’s powers. (1991, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Full text of PM’s reply at walkabout forum... (1984, April 16). Singapore Monitor, p. 6; 25 years of hard work could vanish in 25 days of madness. (1984, April 16). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4.
 From the politics of poverty to the politics of progress (1984, August 20). The Straits Times, p. 10; Plan to safeguard reserves. (1984, August 20). The Business Times, p. 1; Idea first mooted by PM Lee six years ago. (1990, October 3). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1988, July 27). Constitutional amendments to safeguard financial assets and the integrity of the public service (white paper) (Vol. 51, cols. 478–481). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00061205-ZZ&currentPubID=00069572-ZZ&topicKey=00069572-ZZ.00061205-ZZ_1%2Bid015_19880729_S0004_T00111-ministerial-statement%2B
6. Republic of Singapore. (1988, July 29). Constitutional amendments to safeguard financial assets and the integrity of the public services (Cmd. 10 of 1988). Singapore: Singapore National Printers, pp. 1–7. (Call no.: RSING 324.22095957 SIN); Tan, K. (1997). The presidency in Singapore: constitutional developments. In K. Tan & P. E. Lam (Eds.), Managing political change in Singapore: The elected presidency. London, New York: Routledge, pp. 54–55. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 MAN)
7. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1988, August 12). Constitutional amendments to safeguard financial assets and the integrity of the public service (motion) (Vol. 51, cols. 571–638). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00069574-ZZ
8. Republic of Singapore. (1990, August 27). Safeguarding financial assets and the integrity of the public services: The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill. Singapore: Singapore Government Printer. (Call no.: RSING 324.22095957 SIN)
9. Republic of Singapore. (1990, August 27). Safeguarding financial assets and the integrity of the public services: The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill (Cmd. 11 of 1990). p. 7.Singapore: Singapore Singapore: Singapore National Printers, pp. 6–7. (Call No.: RSING 324.22095957 SIN)
10. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1990, August 30). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill (Vol. 56, col. 395). Singapore: Govt. Printer. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN)
11. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1990, October 5). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill (Vol. 56, cols. 509–569). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00062200-ZZ&currentPubID=00069633-ZZ&topicKey=00069633-ZZ.00062200-ZZ_1%2Bid003_19901005_S0002_T00021-bill%2B; Tan, K. (1997). The presidency in Singapore: constitutional developments. In K. Tan & P. E. Lam (Eds.), Managing political change in Singapore: The elected presidency. London, New York: Routledge, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 MAN)
12. Republic of Singapore. (1990, December 18). Report of the select committee on the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill (No. 23/90). Singapore: Singapore National Printers, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 342.595703 SIN); Tan, K. (1997). The presidency in Singapore: constitutional developments. In K. Tan & P. E. Lam (Eds.), Managing political change in Singapore: The elected presidency. London, New York: Routledge, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 MAN)
13. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1991, January 3). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill (as reported from select committee) (Vol. 56, cols. 717–753). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00062259-ZZ&currentPubID=00069636-ZZ&topicKey=00069636-ZZ.00062259-ZZ_1%2Bid008_19910103_S0002_T00021-bill%2B
14. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1991, January 25). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1991 (Act 5 of 1991). Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3Ad2294252-c8b9-4f37-9af2-7af7e05bd6cb%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20Status%3Apublished;rec=0
15. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1991, January 25). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1991 (Act 5 of 1991). Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3Ad2294252-c8b9-4f37-9af2-7af7e05bd6cb%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20Status%3Apublished;rec=0; He was government’s first choice for elected president. (1993, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. All the president’s powers. (1991, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Wee Kim Wee. Retrieved 2016, November 1 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-wee-kim-wee
17. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1991, January 25). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1991 (Act 5 of 1991). Para 19. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3Ad2294252-c8b9-4f37-9af2-7af7e05bd6cb%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20Status%3Apublished;rec=0
18. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1991, January 25). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1991 (Act 5 of 1991). Para 19. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3Ad2294252-c8b9-4f37-9af2-7af7e05bd6cb%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20Status%3Apublished;rec=0
19. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1991, January 25). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1991 (Act 5 of 1991). Para 21. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3Ad2294252-c8b9-4f37-9af2-7af7e05bd6cb%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20Status%3Apublished;rec=0
20. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1991, January 25). Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1991 (Act 5 of 1991). Para 19. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3Ad2294252-c8b9-4f37-9af2-7af7e05bd6cb%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A08%2F09%2F2016%20Status%3Apublished;rec=0
21. President’s Office. (2014, March 20). Constitutional. Retrieved 2016, September 22 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/roles-and-responsibilities/duties/constitutional
22. President’s Office. (2014, March 20). Constitutional. Retrieved 2016, September 22 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/roles-and-responsibilities/duties/constitutional
23. Nomination Day for president. (1993, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Fernandez, W. (1993, August 14). From A to Z on the EP. The Straits Times, p. 32; Teo, A. (1993, August 7). Chua Kim Yeow to take on DPM. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Government of Singapore. (n.d.). Presidential elections results. Retrieved from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_results_presidential.html#Y1993; Tan, S. (1993, September 2). How I will do my job: President Ong. The Straits Times, p. 1; Ng, I. (1993, September 2). Hormat President! The New Paper, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. I had a job to do. (2000, March 9). The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Republic of Singapore. (1999, July 2). The principles for determining and safeguarding the accumulated reserves of the government and the fifth schedule statutory boards and government companies: Presented to Parliament by command of the president of the Republic of Singapore. Singapore: Government Printers. (Call no.: RSING 336.5957 SIN)
28. George, C. (1999, July 5). Govt, president agree on principles over reserves. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. President Ong says ‘thank you’. (1999, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. SR Nathan sworn in as president. (1999, September 2). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Government of Singapore. (n.d.). Presidential elections results. Retrieved from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_results_presidential.html#Y1999
32. Kor, K. B. (2011, September 3). Tony Tan starts work as president. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Republic of Singapore. (2016, August). Review of specific aspects of the elected presidency, pp. 1, 4 [para 17]. Retrieved 2016, September 25 from gov.sg website: https://www.gov.sg/~/media/elected%20presidency/files/white%20paper%20on%20the%20review%20of%20specific%20aspects%20of%20the%20elected%20presidency.pdf
34. Republic of Singapore. (2016, September 15). Review of specific aspects of the elected presidency [White paper], p. 1. Retrieved 2016, September 25 from gov.sg website: https://www.gov.sg/~/media/elected%20presidency/files/white%20paper%20on%20the%20review%20of%20specific%20aspects%20of%20the%20elected%20presidency.pdf
35. Parliament of Singapore. (n.d.). Bills introduced: 2016. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://www.parliament.gov.sg/publications/bills-introduced
36. Republic of Singapore. Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill No. 28/2016, p. 12. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://www.parliament.gov.sg/sites/default/files/Constitution%20of%20the%20Republic%20of%20Singapore%20(Amendment)%20Bill%2028-2016.pdf
37. Republic of Singapore. Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill No. 28/2016, pp. 13–18. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://www.parliament.gov.sg/sites/default/files/Constitution%20of%20the%20Republic%20of%20Singapore%20(Amendment)%20Bill%2028-2016.pdf
38. Republic of Singapore. Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill No. 28/2016, p. 20. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://www.parliament.gov.sg/sites/default/files/Constitution%20of%20the%20Republic%20of%20Singapore%20(Amendment)%20Bill%2028-2016.pdf
39. Republic of Singapore. Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill No. 28/2016, p. 23. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://www.parliament.gov.sg/sites/default/files/Constitution%20of%20the%20Republic%20of%20Singapore%20(Amendment)%20Bill%2028-2016.pdf
40. Republic of Singapore. Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill No. 28/2016, pp. 26–27. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://www.parliament.gov.sg/sites/default/files/Constitution%20of%20the%20Republic%20of%20Singapore%20(Amendment)%20Bill%2028-2016.pdf
41. Next presidential election to be reserved for Malay candidates: PM Lee. (2016, November 9). Channel NewsAsia Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ 
42. Lee, U.-W. (2017, September 13). Halimah Yacob declared president-elect after walkover victory. The Business Times; Chia, L. (2017, September 14). Halimah Yacob sworn in as Singapore's 8th president. Channel NewsAsiaRetrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/




Further resources
Low, L., & Toh, M. H. (1989). The elected presidency as a safeguard for official reserves: What is at stake? Singapore: Times Academic Press: Institute of Policy Studies.
(Call no.: RSING 339.35957 LOW)

Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. [1990]. Elected president. [Videotape]. Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
(Call no.: R 324.6095957 ELE)

Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. [1988]. Elected president. [Videotape]. Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
(Call no.: RSEA 324.7 ELE)



The information in this article is valid as at 15 September 2017 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.

Subject
Law and government>>Political process>>Elections
Presidents--Election--Singapore
Politics and Government