Singapore

Elected president as a stabiliser

Unlike many countries which have two houses of representatives, Singapore started with a unicameral, single Parliament, before shifting to the safeguard of an elected president.

It is not a fundamental shift from our system of parliamentary democracy, but an important one because every system needs political stabilisers, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday on the Constitutional Amendment Bill, he said the elected presidency, while unique and difficult to get right, will be a critical stabiliser to our political system.

We can and should find ways to mitigate these difficulties, because the alternatives to the elected president will create other probably worse difficulties, said Mr Lee.

If the president is not elected but is vested with custodial powers, he will find it hard to veto the Government without democratic mandate.

The same problem will stay if the custodial powers are vested in the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

One can argue to elect the CPA, but Mr Lee said this would lead to six, eight or 10 CPA elections - each at similar risk of being politicised, amplifying the problem.

To go back to the days of an appointed president with a purely ceremonial role would be unwise. There is no safeguard, stabiliser, or fault tolerance, he said.

Even though the president has never had to veto any of the Government's spending proposals, the prospect of having one has influenced Singapore politics for the better.

The need to first persuade the president to unlock the reserves before spending on public policies is an important reason that opposition parties have been quite cautious with their spending proposals, said Mr Lee.

PHOTOS: ST, BH
politicsLee Hsien LoongSingapore