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ELECTED PRESIDENCY

Next presidential election reserved for Malay candidates: PM Lee

He says fine-tuning the Elected Presidency is his job, to ensure it works as a 'stabiliser' for S'pore down the road

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The next presidential election, due next year, will be reserved for Malay candidates, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Singapore

THE next presidential election, due next year, will be reserved for Malay candidates.

Announcing this in Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "That means if a qualified Malay candidate steps up to run, Singapore will have a Malay president again."

The last Malay president was Singapore's first president, Yusof Ishak, who occupied the office more than 46 years ago.

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Soon after Mr Lee's announcement, President Tony Tan said in a Facebook post that he would not be standing in the presidential election next year.

Mr Lee was speaking on the second day of the debate on the proposed changes to the Elected Presidency, during the second reading of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill.

A key change sought in the Bill is the safeguarding of minority representation via a hiatus-triggered mechanism in which an election will be reserved for candidates of a particular ethnic group, if that ethnic group has not been represented for five terms.

When the racial provision should kick in has been a frequent question since the changes proposed by the Constitutional Commission led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon were made public two months ago.

The Constitutional (Amendment) Bill states that the government should legislate on this point - and Mr Lee said on Tuesday that it intends to do so when the Presidential Elections Act is amended in January.

He said that the government would start counting from Wee Kim Wee, the first president to exercise the powers of the Elected President.

Dr Wee was in office when the Elected Presidency came into effect in 1991. There have been five presidential terms with an Elected President in office since then: Dr Wee; Ong Teng Cheong; SR Nathan, who was in office for two terms; and Dr Tan.

Mr Lee said that the ethnic group of each Elected President will have to be defined for the purposes of the Act, with Dr Wee, Mr Ong and Dr Tan deemed Chinese, and Mr Nathan Indian. There has been no Malay president for five straight terms and thus, Mr Lee said, "by the operation of the hiatus-triggered model, the next election due next year will be a reserved election for Malay candidates".

"Among all the changes in this complicated Bill, the one which we thought hardest about, and where the most is at stake, is the question of ensuring multi-racial representation in the Elected Presidency," he said.

"Whether to ensure that people from different races can and do indeed become president is the most difficult question, because it goes right to the core of our fundamental belief in a multi-racial society.

"Every citizen, Chinese, Malay, Indian, or of some other race, should know that someone of his community can become president, and in fact from time to time, does become president."

He said that every political system needs a stabiliser. To make his point, he cited James Madison, one of the US's founding fathers, who wrote in the Federalist Papers: "A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."

He added: "I do not think a system like the US one can work for Singapore, but we too need some 'auxiliary precautions', some stabilisers, besides the 'primary control', which is the fact that Parliament is elected by the people."

He said for Singapore, that stabiliser is the Elected President. "Therefore, we should keep the Elected Presidency and fine-tune its stabiliser role."

Mr Lee said that the Elected Presidency scheme is working well - and there has been no pressure to change it. But it's his government's duty to review the scheme and to make adjustments well ahead of time so that it will continue to function well.

He said that he feels strongly that it is his responsibility, something he has to do now, because his involvement in the Elected Presidency began almost from its start.

Thus, he knows the system and how to improve it and make it work for Singapore's long-term future.

"These changes are my responsibility. I am doing it now, because it would be irresponsible for me to kick this can down the road and leave the problem to my successors."

 

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