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Sept 23 will be polling day if enough candidates for a contest


MORE than 2.5 million Singaporeans will head to the ballot boxes on Sept 23 to vote for the country's eighth President, if there are at least two eligible contenders.

This after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong issued the writ of election on Monday afternoon, which stated that Nomination Day - the day when presidential hopefuls must submit their forms and certificates - would fall on Sept 13.

They have to bring along their nomination papers, the Certificate of Eligibility, the Community Certificate that states they belong to the Malay community, and a political donation certificate. They must also fork out an election deposit of S$43,500 each.

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If more than one candidate is successfully nominated that day, Returning Officer Ng Wai Choong will declare Sept 23, a Saturday, as Polling Day. It will also be a public holiday.

Mr Ng, the current chief executive of the Energy Market Authority, was also the Returning Officer at the last general election in 2015.

The upcoming election is the first to be reserved for candidates from a particular race, in this case for those from the Malay community, which hasn't been represented by a head of state since 1970.

Race to the Istana

The so-called "hiatus-triggered" model was enacted following landmark changes to the Constitution earlier this year.

It means that if there hasn't been a President from a specific community for five consecutive terms, the next term will be reserved for someone from that community.

Writing on Facebook after issuing the writ, Mr Lee reiterated the fact that Singapore is a multiracial country and every citizen should know that someone of his community can and does become President from time to time.

"I hope Singaporeans will support the candidate who will best represent their interests and aspirations, and our nation. Not just at home, but internationally too," said Mr Lee.

With the dates now locked in, all eyes are on how many candidates will eventually make the cut after the close of nominations on Sept 13.

Two men, both seasoned business leaders, have already submitted their applications for the necessary certificates to the Elections Department (ELD).

They are Mohamed Salleh Marican, the 67-year-old chief executive officer of Singapore Exchange-listed Second Chance Properties, and Farid Khan Kaim Khan, the 62-year-old chairman of marine services provider Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific.

Shortly after the writ was issued, Mr Marican said in a statement that he was confident of getting the green light from the six-member Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), which will screen all applicants and inform them of their decision by Sept 12 at the latest.

Ina separate statement, Mr Farid said he looked forward to a "fair and transparent" election that will give all citizens the opportunity to uphold democracy and show how multi-racialism is adopted and practised in Singapore.

Former Speaker of Parliament and veteran politician Halimah Yacob, who turned 63 last week, has also publicly declared her intention to stand for election, although it is unclear when she will hand in her papers to the ELD.

If there is only one eligible candidate at the end of Nomination Day, the Returning Officer will declare that person the next Elected President. As such, there won't be a need for a poll and the candidate will start his or her six-year term the next day.

In the extremely rare instance that no one is successfully nominated, the Prime Minister will then issue a fresh writ to declare an open election to be held at a later date.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam's current six-year term ends this Thursday, and the Constitution provides for an Acting President - in this case, the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers J Y Pillay - to exercise the duties of the office until a new President is elected.

Meanwhile, the long-standing issue of when the government should start counting the five terms of office needed to trigger a reserved election looks set for another high-profile airing.

The opposition Workers' Party announced on Monday that its chairman Sylvia Lim had filed an adjournment motion on this matter when Parliament next sits on Sept 11, two days before Nomination Day. If the Aljunied GRC MP is given the nod, she will get up to 20 minutes to speak.

"In the wake of intense public discussion after the Parliamentary debates and a court case on the reserved presidential election, the Workers' Party believes it is in the public interest for the government to clarify this issue surrounding the election of our Head of State," said the party.