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Elected presidency review: Safeguard needed if no minority president after five terms

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THE full report by the constitutional commission to review the Elected Presidency system in Singapore was made public on Wednesday evening.

THE full report by the constitutional commission to review the Elected Presidency system in Singapore was made public on Wednesday evening.

The 154-page report, first submitted to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in mid-August, suggests that the government consider having a mechanism that will kick in if a particular ethnic minority has not served as Singapore's head of state after five terms.

However, if free and unregulated elections produce presidents from different ethnicities, this provision will never be triggered. As each presidential term lasts six years, a period of five full terms is 30 years.

The last minority president was the late SR Nathan, who served for two terms from 1999 to 2011. The last Malay president was the late Yusof Ishak, who was Singapore's first head of state from 1965 to 1970.

The commission, headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, also proposed raising the eligibility criteria for the presidential candidates to ensure that only those with the requisite experience and expertise can stand for office.

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The existing qualifying criteria states that a person from the private sector must have experience in running a company with at least S$100 million in paid-up capital.

Noting that Singapore's commercial landscape has changed dramatically over the last 25 years, the commission has proposed that the criteria be revised to S$500 million in shareholders' equity.

In absolute terms, more companies would meet this new threshold than those which met the original S$100 million paid-up capital threshold just after the latter was first introduced.

The commission also proposes that the qualifying positions of "chairman" and "chief executive officer" be replaced with a more general reference, such as "the most senior executive position" of the organisation that he worked at.

The role and powers of the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA) should be enhanced, said the commission.

It proposed that the president should be obliged to consult the CPA before exercising his discretion in respect of all fiscal matters touching on Singapore's reserves, or for key public sector appointments.

The exercise of a presidential veto should also be capable of being overridden by Parliament in the appropriate circumstances.

The commission also suggested that the CPA should be strengthened both in terms of its size and also in terms of the eligibility criteria for its members.

The proposal is to increase the council's members from six to eight, comprising the following people: three members nominated by the president, three by the Prime Minister, one nominated by the Chief Justice and the last by the Public Service Commission chairman.

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