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THOSE who intend to contest this year's presidential election - the first in Singapore that is reserved for candidates from the Malay community - must obtain a "community certificate" as one of the necessary documents.
This certificate, which will clearly state the community that the candidate belongs to, will be issued by a new 16-member Community Committee.
The panel, to be set up in the coming months, will comprise a chairman, and three sub-committees (Chinese, Malay, and Indian & other minorities) consisting of five members each. They will all be appointed by the Prime Minister on the nomination of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.
This was one of several amendments proposed to the Presidential Elections Bill, which were tabled in parliament on Monday by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.
The next presidential election is due by the end of August, and Singapore is on track to have its first Malay head of state since the late Yusof Ishak died in office 47 years ago in 1970.
Those who want to stand for election - in this year's case, it will be those from the Malay community only - must make a community declaration to the new committee.
The deadline to do so is five working days after the writ of election is issued, said the Elections Department (ELD) in a statement.
In a reserved election, the committee will accept a declaration only if the person considers himself to belong to that particular community that the election is reserved for.
The committee will then refer the declaration to the respective sub-committee for their assessment and approval. Once the sub-committee gives the green light, the candidate will be given a community certificate.
Even when there is an open election in future, all prospective candidates must also submit a community declaration to the committee. The ELD said this is necessary in order to operate the hiatus-triggered reserved election process.
The new rules state that if Singapore has not had a president from a particular community for five consecutive terms, the next election will be reserved for candidates from that group.
Another change in the Bill is that an open election should take place if no candidate is successfully nominated in the year of a reserved election.
In such a scenario, the Prime Minister will issue a fresh writ declaring an open election, or another reserved election for the next eligible community if this community has also not been represented for the five most recent presidential terms.
As the qualifying criteria has also been expanded, candidates will be required to submit more information during the application process.
Thus, the deadline to apply for the all-important certificate of eligibility (COE) from the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) will be extended to five working days (from the current three) after the writ of election is issued.
The minimum interval between the issue of the writ of election and Nomination Day will be increased from five to 10 calendar days. The ELD said this will give the PEC more time to assess applications for the COE.
Among the other changes to the laws is one that removes the need for a candidate or his counting agent to apply for a recount of the votes if the criteria for the recount is met.
A recount can be conducted if the difference in the number of votes between the top candidate and any other candidate is 2 per cent or less.
When the criteria is fulfilled, the election's Returning Officer will automatically carry out a recount to avoid unnecessary delay to determine the winner.
Parliament will have a full debate on these changes at the next sitting in early-February, and MPs will then vote on the Bill. The changes are expected to be passed well ahead of the upcoming election, which must be called by end-August.
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