PM Lee: Singapore needs a multi-racial elected president
After consulting the Attorney-General, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the racial provisions will apply from Dr Wee Kim Wee's term.
As the presidents after that were Chinese, Indian and Chinese, this means a reserved election for a Malay candidate will be due next year.
This is because based on the hiatus-triggered model, there will be a reserved election for a minority candidate if there has not been a candidate of that particular race after five terms.
There has not been a Malay president for more than 46 years.
As the Head of State, the president represents all Singaporeans.
Therefore, regardless of ethnicity, his office must be multiracial, as with his approach, to reach out to all races, connect with every Singaporean, said Mr Lee.
"If the president, who is the symbol of a multiracial nation, always comes from the same race, not only will he cease to be a credible symbol of our nation, but the very multiracial character of the nation will come under question.
"Every citizen, Chinese, Malay, Indian, or some other race, should know that someone of his community can become president, and in fact, does become president," he said.
Race and religion are hot issues among our neighbours, too, he said.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, there was violence and rioting over Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is running for re-election as governor.
Better known as Ahok, he is Chinese and a Christian.
Citing a Quranic verse, his opponents told the Muslims not to vote for him.
Mr Lee said: "They called him a 'Kafir', an infidel, a strong word. Ahok responded in a YouTube video and accused them of lying and misinterpreting the Quran.
"Then they attacked Ahok for blasphemy.
"In Malaysia, politics is based on race and religion - the anti-thesis of the way politics is conducted in Singapore.
"Political Islam is a dominant feature. PAS (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party) has tabled a hudud bill in parliament. The Barisan Nasional government has allowed it to be put on the Order Paper.
"Non-Muslim parties are deeply upset about this, but they know that in such matters, they do not decide. The divide between the races is very deep," Mr Lee said.
THE US EXAMPLE
When Mr Barack Obama (above) became the US President, it was a breakthrough for African-Americans.
People started thinking that thought race no longer mattered in US politics.
Eight years later, in the election between two white candidates, Mrs Hillary Clinton and Mr Donald Trump, race is "front and centre" on top of issues like globalisation, jobs and insecurity, said Mr Lee.
THE CHINA FACTOR
From government-to-government projects to community events here, Singapore and China share substantial relations.
But there is a risk.
People may misunderstand and think of Singapore as a Chinese country because of our Chinese majority and cultural familiarity.
They may forget that Singapore is actually an independent sovereign country, cooperating with other countries on the basis of our own national interests and positions.
"It can lead to misunderstandings, it can lead to unrealistic expectations and it can lead to us being carried away, even domestically, and forgetting this fundamental fact about Singapore, that we are independent, sovereign and multiracial in Southeast Asia.
"That is what we must always remember," said Mr Lee.
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
WP rejects suggested changes to elected presidency
The Workers' Party (WP), in rejecting the proposed changes to the elected presidency, wants a return to the old system in which Parliament appoints the president.
An appointed president would "take care of any concerns" of minority representation and would not be regressive, said its chairman Sylvia Lim in Parliament yesterday..
Ms Lim, who is also the MP for Aljunied GRC, also called for a national referendum to be held to let people vote for the change they want made to the elected presidency, The Straits Times Online reported.
She suggested two options for the vote.
One, the current system of an elected president playing the dual role of being a unifying head of state and custodian of the nation's reserves; and two, for the president to be appointed and not vested with powers over the national reserves.
The responsibility over the reserves would be vested in an elected Senate instead, said Ms Lim during the debate on the constitutional amendments to the elected presidency.
WP chief Low Thia Khiang said the eight-member Senate will replace the current Council of Presidential Advisers.
A president will be appointed as the head of the Senate, with the appointment to take into account Singapore's multiracial make-up.
The Parliament will also be allowed to overrule the Senate's veto powers with a three-quarter majority.
Mr Low also said the People's Action Party government was making changes to the elected presidency to further its own interest.
He said President Tony Tan won with a narrow margin and this had made the party uneasy.