In less than 2 months, Singaporeans will get a new elected President. Unlike the past Presidential Elections (PE), the run up to this year’s PE has not been a smooth sailing one. Parliament passed a new ruling allowing for a Reserved Election. While many have questioned the wisdom of a reserved PE, Parliament has passed the law and this is our current system of how we will select our future Presidents.
As the Head of State, the President must have the respect of all Singaporeans once he or she is elected (or appointed as in the past). After the new President has been elected in the reserved PE in September this year, I hope all Singaporeans will give that elected person the respect the office of the President of Singapore deserves.
Many of us are saddened with the recent developments and comments from different quarters of society but I hope that we can put all these differences behind us. Once the new President is elected, we should all unite behind that person and focus on uniting the nation so that the respect accrued to the office of the President remains intact.
To help that process, I feel that the following issues need to be addressed fast before we go into the formal PE 2017 process:
1. For the purposes of effecting a reserved election, it is important to establish who our first elected president was Some feel that it is Mr Ong Teng Cheong. He was the first person who was formally elected to the office of President. Before him though, Mr Wee Kim Wee had exercised the powers of the elected president during his term, which was when the constitutional changes were made to allow for Singapore to have an elected President. The court will be deciding on this very soon, but I feel the policy makers could have avoided this question all together by paying more attention to this issue – the constitution could have said that the 5th election should be a reserved election and not the 6th. Nevertheless, once the courts decide, we have to move on.
2. The concept of “Malayness” has also become a debatable issue. Questions about how Mendaki and SINDA classify who is a Malay and who is an Indian do not seem to be aligned with how a Malay or an Indian is defined for the purposes of a GE or a PE. For now, it is critical that the leaders of the Malay community and the government come out and make this position clear and hopefully this position will apply to all aspects of life in Singapore. I hope this can be resolved before the formal process of PE 2017 starts.
3. This being the 1st ever reserved PE, many hope to see qualified Malays step forward and give Singaporeans an opportunity to choose their President. It is also very important that Singaporeans and the rest of the world see that we have enough qualified Malays in Singapore who meet the very stringent requirements set in the constitution. It will be a pity if we don’t have enough qualified candidates to choose from for the first ever reserved PE. So, I hope all those who meet the criteria, come forward for this wider call.
4. While the constitution is open about having a current sitting government politician standing for the PE, some Singaporeans have expressed concerns on the prospects of a current government MP, still in parliament, resigning as an MP and immediately standing for the PE. The spirit of the Elected President is independence of office as intended by Mr Lee Kuan Yew when the idea was mooted. While I have no question about how each person will do his or her duty to serve the office they are elected to serve, public perception is also important. While Mr Ong Teng Cheong also did the same in 1993, I sense people are increasingly uncomfortable with this.
As the Head of State, the President of Singapore holds the highest office and he or she must get the full respect of all Singaporeans. I hope the above issues are addressed before PE 2017 kicks off formally. It is good that Singaporeans are debating the issue of the reserved PE. My hope is that we can largely come to an understanding of the above 4 issues before we kick off PE 2017. And once our President has been elected, let’s all show respect for the President of Singapore and stand united as Singaporeans.
Inderjit Singh Dhaliwal (born 5 June 1960) is an entrepreneur and former politician in Singapore’s parliament representing the Ang Mo Kio GRC from 1996 to 2015.