Shanmugam slams WP's arguments as 'half-baked'
Before constitutional amendments to elected presidency were passed yesterday, Law Minister K. Shanmugam attacked the Workers' Party's proposal for an elected senate. LINETTE HENG (firstname.lastname@example.org) brings you highlights of the exchange, which lasted more than 40 minutes
In its position paper, The Workers' Party (WP) proposed a Parliament-appointed ceremonial president and an elected senate of eight members to play the custodial role of the presidency.
WP said on Tuesday that the members of the senate would have to fit the tightened qualifying criteria set out in the Bill.
Mr K. Shanmugam pointed out that WP had argued that tightening the qualifying criteria would restrict the pool of possible candidates to the "super-elites".
"So, instead of one elected president, we will have eight elected presidents," he said.
"How does this deal with the objection of elitism? Of a narrow field? Of a super-elite field?"
WP’s Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh
THE UPPER HOUSE
In response to a commentary suggesting that there should be two Houses of Parliament, WP's Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh had commented in a Facebook post last December that this would add "complicated layers that will dilute popular sovereignty".
Mr Shanmugam, who read out excerpts from Associate Professor Goh's post several times, argued that the post clearly showed that Prof Goh opposed an Upper House, which was contradictory to WP's proposal for a senate.
In response, Prof Goh said the Government should face up to its own contradictions of an "unelected Council of Presidential Advisers" instead of dwelling on his Facebook post.
Mr Shanmugam then complained to Speaker of the House Halimah Yacob that Prof Goh was making a speech instead of a clarification.
Prof Goh added that his comments were in response to a specific article and he did not oppose an Upper House "on principle".
Mr Shanmugam called WP's argument - that having an elected president is dishonourable - an "unworthy" suggestion.
He named all of Singapore's elected presidents - Dr Wee Kim Wee, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, Mr S R Nathan and President Tony Tan Keng Yam - and challenged WP to say that they have been "dishonourable".
He also reminded WP chairman Sylvia Lim and WP member Pritam Singh that they had paid tribute to the late Mr Nathan.
In response, Ms Lim said their tributes were meant for Mr Nathan "as a man" and they were not referring to the design of the system and the potential problem.
"The two are quite distinct," she said.
Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim
Mr Shanmugam criticised WP for presenting a "half-baked and absurd" proposal that could not withstand scrutiny in Parliament.
"But Parliament is a place for asking questions, (getting) your proposals thoroughly examined. As champions of parliamentary democracy, surely WP believes in that."
Ms Lim said it was "flattering" that Mr Shanmugam had spent time cross-examining WP's proposal.
She added that Singaporeans are still reeling from the announcement that the next presidential election will be reserved for a Malay candidate.
"How does this sudden announcement help unify the country?
"Shouldn't the Government be concentrating more on persuading Singaporeans on the merits of its proposal instead of spending all that time attacking us?" she said.
"I don't know who is politicising the process and is public interest being served by this?"
Mr Shanmugam concluded that WP was giving up on its proposal as it was not defending it.
"Shouldn't the Government be concentrating more on persuading Singaporeans on the merits of its proposal (to reserve elections for a Malay presidential candidate in 2017) instead of spending all that time attacking us?"
- Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim
DPM Teo clarifies presidential advisers' role
After three days and 38 MPs joining the debate, the Constitution (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament yesterday.
Six MPs from The Workers' Party (WP) voted "no".
With the Bill passed, the eligibility criteria for the elected president will be tightened and there will be a "five-term hiatus" rule to ensure that minority groups will be elected.
In his closing speech, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the Elected Presidency is not a perfect system, but the Government is trying to improve its institutions and strengthen them for the Singapore of the future.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean
He also attacked WP's proposals to have an appointed president and an elected senate.
Here are some of the points he brought up.
DPM Teo said WP's suggestion of a senate was a "marked departure" from its manifesto at the 2015 General Election as well as its submissions to the Constitution Commission in March.
He also criticised WP for putting out its proposal to the House in a "non-transparent, non-consultative way" less than 30 hours ago and then calling for a referendum on the issue.
He said: "The proposal has the benefit of brevity but, unfortunately, not of clarity."
POOL OF CANDIDATES
The People's Action Party MPs Saktiandi Supaat and Louis Ng asked about the impact of tightened criteria on the pool of qualified candidates.
In response, DPM Teo said he did not have a precise figure as companies do not publicise the racial background of their public officers.
"There will always be qualified minority candidates from both the public and private sectors," he said.
"Every community should aspire towards producing leaders who may one day represent the nation in her highest office and to encourage those leaders to come forward to serve in that office.
"The pool will grow over time as our country progresses."
ROLE OF CPA
DPM Teo said WP fundamentally misunderstood the role of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) and accuses it of "misleading" the House.
He explained that the CPA's role is relevant only when the President vetoes a proposal from the Government. And if the President exercises his veto, but the CPA agrees with the Government's proposal, the CPA's agreement serves to moderate the weight of the President's veto by referring the issue to Parliament.
DPM Teo added that it was "disappointing" that WP had suggested that the CPA is a "politicised body".
MP Yee Chia Hsing asked whether a gap of five terms would be too long for the hiatus safeguard mechanism.
DPM Teo said that five terms strikes the right balance between ensuring minority representation without being too invasive or prescriptive.
"A gap that is too short would create a rotation that could impede our progress towards the ideal of a society where race is no longer a significant issue," he said.
"Every community should aspire towards producing leaders who may one day represent the nation in her highest office and to encourage those leaders to come forward to serve in that office."
- Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean