Singapore

Tan Cheng Bock questions presidential election changes

Tan Cheng Bock suggests that reserving upcoming election for Malay candidates is way of disqualifying him

Former MP and one-time presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock yesterday questioned the Government's reasons for reserving the upcoming presidential election for Malay candidates and suggested that the changes were made to disqualify him from contesting.

A central plank for his disagreement with the move was the Government's decision to include the term of the late former president Wee Kim Wee in calculating when a reserved election should be held.

Dr Tan, 76, said Mr Wee, who served from September 1985 to September 1993, did not contest an election.

Speaking at a press conference, Dr Tan said the Government should refer the matter to the courts for "independent judicial verification".

The next presidential election, due this September, should be open to candidates of all races, he added.

"I am concerned that our elected presidency will always be tainted with the suspicion that the reserved election of 2017 was introduced to prevent my candidacy," Dr Tan.

His comments came more than six months after a Constitutional Commission appointed to review the elected presidency submitted recommendations to the Government, and some five months after Parliament approved changes to the elected presidency.

A key change - to ensure that Singaporeans of all races are represented in the highest office in the land - will see elections reserved for candidates from a particular racial group when no one from the group has held the office for five consecutive terms.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament last November that the next election would be reserved for candidates from the Malay community as there has not been a Malay president since Singapore's first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970.

I am concerned that our elected presidency will always be tainted with the suspicion that the reserved election of 2017 was introduced to prevent my candidacy. Dr Tan Cheng Bock

The Government, which received advice from the Attorney-General, started counting the five continuous terms from the term of Mr Wee - the first president vested with the powers of the elected president.

Mr Wee was in office when the elected presidency came into effect in 1991.

After him were Mr Ong Teng Cheong; Mr S R Nathan, who served two terms; and the current President, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam.

At his hour-long press conference, Dr Tan said starting the count with Mr Wee was erroneous as Mr Wee's powers were given to him by Parliament, "not by the people".

Instead, Mr Ong, elected in 1993, was considered the first elected president, said Dr Tan, who served as a People's Action Party MP from 1980 to 2006.

There was also no proper explanation given as to why the Attorney-General advised the Government to start the count from Mr Wee's term, he said, adding: "If need be, the Government can refer AG Chambers' opinion to court for independent judicial verification."

Dr Tan, who narrowly lost to Dr Tony Tan in a four-way contest at the 2011 election, said in March last year that he would contest again.

But he is now not eligible, in part because the criteria for candidates have also been tightened.

For instance, candidates drawing on their private sector experience must have been the most senior executive of a company with at least $500 million in shareholders' equity.

Ministers who responded to criticism last year that the changes might be seen as a move to deny Dr Tan a chance to run, explained that the changes were to improve the system for Singapore's long-term benefit.

Asked yesterday if he would seek a judicial review, Dr Tan said he wanted to keep his options open.

In a statement last night, a Communications and Information Ministry spokesman noted that Dr Tan did not give his views to the Constitutional Commission.

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