Singapore

Court reserves judgment over reserved presidential election


Lawyers for former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock and the Government yesterday argued in the apex court over how the Constitution defines a president.

Senior Counsel Chelva Retnam Rajah said a president must be someone who was popularly elected, while Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair said the constitutional definition of president included those who were elected by Parliament and by the people.

The two men were arguing over how Article 19(B)1 in the Constitution should be read.

The provision allows the Government to reserve a presidential election for candidates from a particular community if it has not been represented in the highest office in the land for five consecutive terms.

The upcoming election has been reserved for Malay candidates, and former presidential candidate Dr Tan is challenging the timing and basis of this.

The High Court had on July 7 dismissed his challenge.

Appealing against this yesterday, Dr Tan, who was represented by Mr Rajah, said it was unconstitutional for the Government to start its count of the five terms needed to trigger a reserved election from the term of President Wee Kim Wee. He was the first to be vested with the powers of the elected president, though he was elected by Parliament.

The Court of Appeal, with five judges presiding, including Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, have reserved judgment on the case.

CJ Menon - who headed a constitutional commission set up to look into changes to the elected presidency - said a decision would be made "as soon as possible".

In arguing against the count, Mr Rajah cited articles from the Constitution and the Interpretation Act to show that the definition of "president" had changed since the elected presidency was introduced in 1991.

He said "to be included in the count, you have to be a president who falls within the meaning of president that exists in the constitution as it appears today".

This means the Government can start its count only from the term of presidents who were popularly election, starting from President Ong Teng Cheong, he added.

But Mr Hri Kumar Nair, representing the Government, said the argument was an attempt to limit the definition of president so as to delay the reserved presidential election set to take place in September.

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