June 25, 2017

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by Johannes Tjendro

THE notable thing about Mr M Ravi’s application that the recent amendment to the Elected Presidency (EP) scheme is unconstitutional is that not a single Member of Parliament (MP) raised this point during the two-day debate. Presumably, since they were sitting to discuss changing the Constitution, the thought did not enter their minds.

The closest that anyone got to was Workers’ Party’s Ms Sylvia Lim’s opinion that Parliament should not “arrogate to itself the right to decide such fundamental matters concerning the political system and state power” (Hansard 8 Nov 2016). She further suggested that the constitutional amendment on the Elected Presidency be put to a national referendum instead. She did not, however, provide a clear legal basis as to why a national referendum would make a more appropriate platform than Parliament.

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The Challenge

In a Facebook post dated May 22, Mr Ravi summed up his challenge as claiming that the amended EP scheme deprives citizens of their right to stand for public office. As a matter of fact, Section 45(1) of the Constitution does stipulate categories of people who are disqualified from running for office, such as those who are “declared to be of unsound mind”, “undischarged bankrupts”, or have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one year or more, or not less than $2,000.

But Mr Ravi also added that the amended EP scheme discriminates specifically on the ground of ethnicity. He is convinced that this renders the EP scheme amendment unconstitutional.

This places Mr Ravi’s challenge to the amended EP scheme in much broader terms than Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s challenge. Dr Tan objects to the Government’s counting of the five presidential terms that is needed to trigger a reserved election. He contends that the counting of five terms should start with Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who was the first elected president, in 1993, rather than from the term of Mr Wee Kim Wee, the first president vested with the powers of the elected presidency. He was in office when the elected presidency took effect in 1991.

Mr Ravi contends that the reserved presidential election violates Article 12 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination against Singapore citizens on the ground “of religion, race, descent, or place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority”.

However, the EP amendment makes it clear in Section 19B(5) that a reserved election cannot be struck down “on the ground of inconsistency with Article 12”. Furthermore, Article 12 provides for exceptions so long as they are “expressly authorised by this Constitution”.

Hence, it does seem that the amended Elected Presidency is precluded from any constitutional challenge. Mr Ravi himself acknowledged this in a live video on Facebook yesterday (May 23): “I know they made one amendment in the Constitution… to exclude the judicial challenge on this.”

When TMG asked him about this, he said that he would address it in his court submission.

The Basic Structure Doctrine: Is Parliament above the Constitution?

Mr Ravi also evoked the Basic Structure Doctrine, which originated from a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that no constitutional amendment should “destroy the basic structure of the constitution”, with the help of Prof Andrew Harding of National University of Singapore (NUS), who is “a leading scholar in the fields of Asian legal studies and comparative constitutional law”.

It is noteworthy that the first articulation of the Basic Structure Doctrine in Singapore was rejected by the Singapore High Court in Teo Soh Lung v Minister of Home Affairs [1989].

In 1987, Ms Teo was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), but was subsequently released following a successful judicial review in the Court of Appeal. She was then served with a new detention order signed by the President. A month later, Parliament enacted amendments to the Constitution and ISA. Ms Teo’s counsel argued that the Parliament had retrospectively usurped “judicial power exclusively vested in the judiciary, in breach of the separation of powers”.

Justice F.A. Chua ruled that, on the contrary, if Courts had the power to impose limitations on Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution, they would be “usurping Parliament’s legislative function contrary to Article 58 of the Constitution”. He further held that since Parliament gave the constitution, Parliament could also take it back.

Nevertheless, in 2012, the then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong delivered a lecture where he conveyed his belief that the Basic Structure Doctrine does apply to the Singapore Constitution. In his notion of the basic structure of the Constitution, he specifically included judicial power and the exercise thereof through judicial review, which is the means by which the courts check the illegality of legislative or executive acts.

Finally, while the High Court is bound by decisions made by the Court of Appeal, a High Court judge is not bound by decisions made by other High Court judges. On this note, he pointed out that the Court of Appeal, which upheld Justice Chua’s ruling, had declined to decide whether the High Court was correct to hold the basic structure doctrine inapplicable.

Ravi’s rant: A puppet President?

Mr Ravi went live on Facebook yesterday (May 23) to talk about his constitutional challenge against the EP scheme. Although his application was that it was unconstitutional for the presidential election to take into account race, he also lambasted other criteria for being unmeritocratic. He said that these criteria include being “wealthy” and having “$500 million or so”, being “well-connected”, and “being in certain institutions”.

He was perhaps referring to the private sector service requirement that says that presidential candidates must have served as the chief executive officer of a company with at least $500 million in shareholders’ equity for a minimum of three years. Alternatively, presidential candidates must fulfill the public sector service requirement.

He also veered into other matters such as the President being “a puppetry role”, especially judged by the fact that the President does not actually have the power to pardon death penalty cases. He recounted that he challenged this in court in 2010 only to find out that the President only has the said power “in theory”, but “in practice, it is actually the cabinet (who has it)”.

In October 2016, Mr Ravi was barred from applying for a practising certificate for two years by the Court of Three Judges — comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang. The judges said that Mr Ravi, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006, had conducted himself “deplorably in relation to the judiciary, his clients and the profession as a whole”, including making “baseless, racially-charged allegations”.

Meanwhile, the hearing for Dr Tan’s challenge will likely be held in June, reported The Straits Times.

 

Featured image from Mr M Ravi’s Facebook page.

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by Bertha Henson

I AM glad that Dr Tan Cheng Bock applied to the courts for a decision on whether the G’s calculations on when to call a reserved presidential election is constitutional. After a quick burst through Parliament albeit after six months of deliberation by a constitutional commission, the judiciary will now have a look at the trigger mechanism.

This is a contentious portion, couched by the G as a way to preserve minority representation but seen by Dr Tan’s fans as a way to keep him out of the coming contest. This is due in September, so it’s likely that the courts will move fast and make a speedy decision.

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Opposition MPs who have raised questions about the timing of reserved elections during the debate on the changes to the presidency have been given short shrift. The G’s tactic was to turn the guns on the MPs, suggesting that they were impugning the office of its top lawyer by asking for more details on how he came to the conclusion that Singapore was now in its fifth presidential term without a Malay president.

The Attorney-General (AG) had dated the start with the late Dr Wee Kim Wee’s exercise of an elected president’s powers. Detractors like Dr Tan argued that Mr Wee was an appointed president who took on the expanded powers because the changes to Constitution were made during his term of office in 1991. Dr Tan, himself a former presidential candidate, argued that the count should begin with the term of the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who won the first presidential election.

Clearly, this is not a topic that the G wishes to engage anyone on. The Ministry of Communications and Information gave a terse reply to Dr Tan’s press conference which he had called on March 31 to contest this point. He did not raise any new points, it said.

Truth to tell, people raise old points all the time and it is probably good politics to respond to them because politics is about persuading people to your point of view, even if you have to do it for the umpteenth time. Dr Tan’s misgivings are shared, at least by this writer. To have race thrown into the political mix after such a long silence is puzzling enough. To activate the mechanism immediately looks like too much haste.

It isn’t apparent that the Malay community welcomes its coming shot at the office. In my view, it wouldn’t hurt to have an open election for the next president to test the assumption that minority candidates wouldn’t be elected, that is, if the Malay community is able to forward an able and willing person to try for the job. But that is only my view, and not a legal view. The AG doubtless would have legal arguments on his side which we have yet to hear.

Dr Tan’s application allows the issue to be raised, albeit in a different forum, so that laymen like me will have the satisfaction of seeing all points of views canvassed.

I find it intriguing that the application is about how the new clause in the Presidential Elections Act might not be consistent with new amendments to the Constitution which allow for reserved elections. So is this a drafting problem rather than a fundamental one?

It’s not too far of a stretch to say that there is plenty of cynicism over parliamentary proceedings, especially the speedy passage of legislation. The People’s Action Party’s stranglehold over Parliament is one reason for the “efficiency’’. But even in the days of still fewer opposition MPs, parliamentary select committees were formed to scrutinise important legislation. No such committee has been set up for years.

Are backbenchers up to the job of debating the G which would have its battery of civil servants, including the AG, giving advice? I have always wondered about the work of Government Parliamentary Committees that are supposed to specialise in fields of government and hence be better informed for debates. The media gives GPC leaders the privilege of naming them as such when they speak up but what do these GPCs actually do? Do they convene meetings or meet their resource panels (if any) to discuss forthcoming legislation?

The opposition MPs are supposed to check the G – or that’s what they say about the role. To give them credit, they do ask some pointed questions, but they seem incapable of coming up with coherent alternatives; witness the Workers’ Party’s (WP) lame proposal to replace the elected presidency. Nor did they advance any further on the queries they raised regarding a reserved election. End of debate. Bill passed. Business ended.

Save the WP MPs, nobody seems too bothered by the decision that the first elected president is different from the first president to exercise the power of an elected president. This must be because they agree with the G, even though this is only based on the AG’s say-so.

So someone outside Parliament decided to turn to the third arm of the State: the judiciary. Obviously, Dr Tan did not raise a frivolous piece of litigation since the court has accepted the application and even set a date for a meeting. His argument makes sense to the layman: those long in the tooth will remember voting for the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong and I daresay no one will ever refer to Mr Wee as “the first president to exercise the powers of an elected president”. To most, Mr Ong was the first elected President. Period.

You might say that Dr Tan has a vested interest in getting the timings changed so that he can throw his hat into the ring. He had said, after all, that he would be contesting, but that was before the changes to the legislation. (Read more about it here) But even if he succeeds in his court application, it is no longer a walk through the presidential park for aspiring candidates of any race. Dr Tan, for example, might not be able to meet expanded criteria on corporate experience.

His legal challenge, whether motivated by self or public interest, is a welcomed one. Let the AG speak. Let Dr Tan’s lawyers speak. Let learned eyes look over the legislation. The judiciary is after all another avenue of check and balances. We deserve more explanation and elucidation, whatever the final outcome of the application.

 

Featured image by Wikimedia user Kok Leng Yeo. CC-BY-2.0.

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by Bertha Henson

MAVERICK politician Dr Tan Cheng Bock has gone to the High Court to contest the G’s calculation of when a reserved election should be held.

He has consulted a Queen’s Counsel (QC) in Britain who shares his opinion that the G did wrong by specifying that the calculation should start from the term of the late Mr Wee Kim Wee, who exercised the powers of an elected president when the Constitution was first changed to allow for this.

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According to the G, this means that Singapore is currently in the fifth presidential term without a Malay in the top job. The coming election due in September should therefore be reserved for candidates from the community.

Dr Tan held a press conference on Mar 31 contesting this calculation, which was the advice that was given to the G by the Attorney-General (AG). By his reckoning, the start date should be from the first open election held for the presidency, which would make the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong the first elected president. If so, this would mean that only four terms have passed without a Malay president and the coming election should therefore be open to candidates of all races.

The G has maintained that it was abiding by the AG’s advice and that Dr Tan raised nothing new in his press conference. Opposition politicians who had asked the same question in Parliament were also told that the AG, the G’s top lawyer, had looked at all legal issues surrounding the timing.

In his Facebook post announcing the legal challenge today, Dr Tan did not say what the QC had advised in terms of calculation except to give his view that “section 22 Presidential Elections (Amendment) Act 6 of 2017 as it stands is unconstitutional’’.

The relevant clause in the legislation which was approved by Parliament on Feb 6 this year, reads:

Dr Tan wants the court to decide if the clause is consistent with Articles 19 B (1) and 164 (1) of the Constitution which introduced the mechanism of a Reserved Election. You may read the clauses here.

“After receiving Lord Pannick’s reply, I felt I could not keep his legal opinion to myself. It would be in public interest to have the Court decide which legal view is correct – Lord Pannick or the AG,’’ he wrote.

Through law firm Tan Rajah and Cheah, he filed his application to the High Court on May 5. The application was accepted and the first pre-trial hearing will be on May 22.

Said Dr Tan: “I believe this question can be answered without confrontation or hostility. Both the Government and I have the nation’s best interest at heart. It is in nobody’s interest to have a Reserved Election that is unconstitutional.’’

 

Featured image from TMG file.  

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Dr Tan Cheng Bock speaking at the press conference.
Speaking at the press conference at MHC Asia Healthcare building today, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, 75, announced his intentions to run for the next presidential election.

by Suhaile Md

MONTHS after constitutional amendments were made to the Elected Presidency (EP), we finally hear from former presidential candidate Dr Tan Cheng Bock. He called a press conference on Friday (Mar 31) and questioned the timing of the reserved election.

Unlike the G, he thinks that the presidential election later this year should be an open one, not reserved, as was announced on Feb 6. This is important to address, otherwise “the Elected Presidency will always be tainted with the suspicion that the reserve elections of 2017 was introduced to prevent my candidacy,” said Dr Tan.

At the heart of the matter is the definition of who the first EP is. If there has been five consecutive presidential terms where a Chinese, Malay, and Indian or Other minority race member does not become President, the next Presidential Election would be reserved for a qualified member of that race. Singapore has not had a Malay President since Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970.

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So who’s the first Elected President?

The G said the late Dr Wee Kim Wee is the first EP. Yes, he was not elected, but the EP came into effect in 1991 during his term, making Dr Wee the “first President who exercised the powers of the Elected President,” said Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong last year in Parliament (Nov 8). Following Dr Wee, was Mr Ong Teng Cheong, Mr S R Nathan, and Dr Tony Tan. Mr Nathan served two terms. PM Lee also mentioned this was in line with the Attorney-General’s Chamber’s (AGC) advice.

Dr Tan disagreed on Friday, and questioned if the “AGC’s method of counting was in line with the spirit of the Constitutional Commission’s Report”. The report, said Dr Tan, talked about a reserve election being triggered only “if open elections” do not produce presidents from a particular community for five consecutive terms. That is, an election that is open to candidates of all races. He emphasised the word “elections”. Simply put, Dr Wee was nominated, not elected, but Mr Ong Teng Cheong was, therefore Mr Ong is the first President from an “open election”.

I question whether AGC’s method of counting is actually in line with the spirit and purpose put forward by the Constitutional Commission for having a reserved election.

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A familiar argument

It’s an argument that was raised in parliament by the opposition earlier this year (Feb 6). The AGC’s advice to count Dr Wee as the first EP “was surprising and illogical to many Singaporeans, given that President Wee Kim Wee was never elected to office,” said Workers’ Party Chairman Ms Sylvia Lim. Minister in Prime Minister’s Office and Government Whip, Chan Chung Sing replied that the G was “confident of the advice” from the AGC, and not going to rehash the arguments made by PM Lee in Parliament on Nov 8.

On Nov 9, Ms Lim had also asked if the G was “prepared to publish that advice” from the AGC. To which, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean responded that “it was not normal… to publish a lawyer’s advice because that is something which is provided to the Prime Minister.” If Ms Lim felt that the AGC had not advised correctly, she could “challenge judicially”.

Although Dr Tan Cheng Bock did not mention these exchanges specifically on Friday, he did say this: “Unfortunately, there was no debate on whether AGC advised the Government correctly. The Government also declined the opportunity to explain this in Parliament.” Furthermore, he said that “a recent high profile” Court of Appeal case showed that the AGC can be wrong in their legal opinion. He did not specify the case he was referring to.

Unfortunately, there was no debate on whether AGC advised the Government correctly.

He added: “If the Government double-checks the AGC’s advice with the Court, then Parliament and the people of Singapore can be satisfied beyond doubt that the constitutional changes they are making stand on strong legal foundations.”

Otherwise, he concluded, the 2017 reserved elections will be “tainted with the suspicion” it was introduced to prevent him from running.

When asked if he would go to the courts himself if the G declines his invitation. He replied: “The courts should be the last resort. Good politics… not everything should go to the courts.”

When TMG asked if he thought the G made the changes to affect his candidacy, he said, “I hope they didn’t plan it that way, but it seems to be that way because” of feedback from “the ground”.

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Why speak up now?

Last March, Dr Tan had announced his intention to run for President. The report was out last August. The G’s response was out the following month. And on Nov 9, the amendment bill was passed.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock said he was initially “resigned” to the fact that he would not qualify for the Presidency due to the changes proposed in the report, and later accepted by the G (read more here). However, the lack of clarity in parliament spurred him to look into the issues deeper. He added that when he’s “silent, always remember that I’m thinking”, not doing nothing.

A Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) spokesman, in response to media queries later in the day, said that the issue “has been considered and debated extensively for more than a year”, and that “Dr Tan has not raised any new points that require response.”

Dr Tan has not raised any new points that require response.

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The press conference

The press conference on Friday was a humdrum affair – no rallying cry or rousing speech. Instead Dr Tan stuck to script throughout his presentation, driving home his point about who the first EP should be. He came prepared, with multiple references to the Hansard to back up his assertion that in all his “26 years in Parliament we had always referred to Mr Ong Teng Cheong as the first elected President”.

Former presidential candidate Mr Tan Kin Lian, who was in the audience, thought Dr Tan “made a convincing case”. He had run for the 2011 elections against Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Dr Tony Tan, and Mr Tan Jee Say.

Added Mr Tan Kin Lian: “He (Dr Tan) and his team did a lot of work to research… and found many instances where the MPs referred to Ong Teng Cheong as the first elected president. I agree with his interpretation of the intent of the Commission. I am surprised at the incompetence of the government.”

There was a smattering, albeit enthusiastic, applause later during the question and answer session when Dr Tan talked about what he thought should define a President: “You must define (the) presidency by people who believe in multi-racialism, people who have the… character, who have served this country for a long time, who believe in the people… but if you want to define the Presidency by money…it’s very sad for this country.”

if you want to define the Presidency by money… It’s very sad for this country.

Dr Tan did not specify, but he was likely referring to the qualifying criteria, where potential candidates from the private sector must have experience at the senior-most executives levels in companies with shareholder equity of at least $500m.
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The Constitutional Commisson

The qualifying criteria was one of three issues related to the Elected Presidency scheme that the Constitutional Commission was set up to review, early last year. The other two areas had to do with the framework governing the President’s custodial powers, and ensuring that there was minority representation time to time. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon led the nine member commission.

Public feedback was sought but notably, Dr Tan Cheng Bock had not submitted any suggestions or proposals. This fact was not missed by the MCI spokesman who said, Dr Tan “did not… give his views to the commission”.

When TMG asked Dr Tan on Friday why he did not, he smiled and said: “I’m an interested party… let them (commission) decide.”

I’m an interested party… let them (commission) decide.

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Can Dr Tan run for election again?

In 2011, he had lost the race to Dr Tony Tan by just 7,382 votes. Dr Tony Tan won with 35.20 per cent of the votes while Dr Tan Cheng Bock secured 34.85 per cent of votes.

This time round though, even if there is no reserved election, Dr Tan would find it hard to qualify. He was a non-executive chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings – not a company with $500 million in shareholder equity.

For Dr Tan to successfully qualify to run for the President this coming September, a few things must happen. First, race must no longer be a factor. So either the G reverses its stand that the election this year is reserved, or if there is no qualified Malay candidate. But that’s unlikely (read more here).

Second, Dr Tan must convince the Presidential Elections Committee that he is qualified, through the deliberative track. That is, his past roles in the public or private sector were of sufficient complexity to prove that he can handle the responsibilities of the President.

When asked if he was speaking up too late in the game, he replied: “I think it’s never too late for anything.”

He later added: “Anytime you call an election, my men is ready. I have a team now… I am prepared to assume that role, to look after your reserves, to make sure the appointments of people in the government are in the right order… If I can’t, well, I suppose there’s other ways for me to contribute.”

 

Featured image (taken during press conference in 2016) from TMG file.  

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Would the three Tans qualify, Presidential Election, Singapore President

by Bertha Henson

DR TAN Cheng Bock won’t make it. Neither will Mr Tan Jee Say. There’s a question mark over Mr Tan Kin Lian too. The report of Constitutional Commission on changes to the elected presidency has been made public. As expected, it proposed that qualifying criteria for candidates be made more stringent – and even more checks done on those who want to be president.

It’s not going to make Dr Tan, who declared his intention to run for president again, very happy. In March, he said he would take a second shot, making the announcement in the midst of the Commission’s review. People saw a subtext to this: He was putting his oar in before changes could be made to bar him from contesting. It upped the ante in case any new criteria came up to exclude him. Dr Tan secured 34.85 per cent of the votes in the 2011 presidential election, coming second to current President Tony Tan’s 35.19 per cent of votes. Mr Tan Jee Say secured 25.02 per cent while Mr Tan Kin Lian took 4.91 per cent.

The presidential election (PE) qualifying criteria now:

  • Someone who has held key public service office appointments,
  • chairman or CEO of certain statutory boards such as CPF Board and HDB.
  • chairman or CEO of a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100m.
  • A “catch-all” category: Anyone who has held positions of similar complexity in the public or private sector which shows he is able to carry out the duties of the president.
  • The aspiring candidate in the first three categories must have held those positions for at least three years.

The proposed criteria:

  • Someone who has held key public service office appointments (No change).
  • The most senior executive of certain statutory boards (No change).
  • The most senior executive of a company with shareholder equity of at least $500m. The company must have recorded a net profit under the person’s leadership.
  • The “catch-all” category remains.
  • The aspiring candidate in the first three categories must have held the positions for at least six years.
  • Expiry date: The candidate can’t have been too long away from that qualifying job; it must be within 15 years of the PE’s nomination day.

Here’s how the cards will fall if the G accepts the proposals:

 

Former PAP MP Dr Tan Cheng Bok qualified in 2011 because he was the non-executive chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings, which had at least $100 million in paid-up capital. 

The proposed criteria does away with designations and stipulates that the candidate must have held “the most senior executive position in the company, however that office may be titled”. More specifically, the Commission said that this would “exclude, for instance, a non-executive Chairman (italics added by the Commission) who might have been invited to lead the board but who does not in fact actively run the company. So, under the proposed criteria, Dr Tan would not qualify.

 

Mr Tan Jee Say, a former civil servant, made the cut because although he wasn’t a CEO of a $100m company, he was CEO with the title of regional managing director of AIB Govett Asia which managed total assets in excess of $100 million. He qualified under the catch-all category.

Mr Tan might still qualify under the “catch-all” category but he will not be able to clear another new bar: The qualifying period, or when he helmed the top job, must be within 15 years of the election. Mr Tan quit his job in 2001. This means that he wants to stand in the PE which is due by end of August next year, he would have just missed the 15 year mark. He is now a regional director of a professional accounting association.

 

Mr Tan Kin Lian qualified under same clause. He was a long-time CEO of NTUC Income, an insurance cooperative with a shared capital of $500 million and assets of $17 billion. 

Much would depend on whether the Presidential Elections Committee think that this experience is comparable to running a company with a $500 million shareholder equity. Mr Tan quit NTUC Income in 2007, which means he is within the qualifying period should he decide to context next year.

What about Dr Tony Tan, the current President, you say? Of course he qualifies. An elected president can serve two terms. Will he put his hat into the ring? Well, Dr Tan has said he would formally give his views when the Commission has made its recommendations. So, we wait.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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RESIGNATION of Member of Parliament David Ong Kim Huat – announced yesterday afternoon – has triggered a by-election for the Bukit Batok single member constituency (SMC). In a press statement published by the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Ong cited “personal reasons” and admitted that “there is personal indiscretion on my part which I deeply regret”, adding that he would “appreciate [giving him and his family] the privacy to heal and rebuild.”

Information was scant for a brief period. After thanking Mr Ong for his contributions, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote that a by-election would be held “in due course”. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam apologised, saying “Mr David Ong has apologised but I want to say to Bukit Batok residents on behalf of the party that we are deeply sorry this has happened.” In addition, Mr Shanmugaratnam sought to assure residents that Bukit Batok SMC will be in good hands before the by-election. MP Desmond Lee will see to responsibilities in the constituency, while MP Ang Wei Neng will take over as chairman of the Jurong-Clementi Town Council.

However, Zaobao first reported allegations that Mr Ong had an affair with a married woman – senior logistics executive Wendy Lim – who is also a Women’s Wing member of the People’s Action Party (PAP) Bukit Batok branch. The last two by-elections were also triggered by rumours of or admissions to extramarital affairs. Former Workers’ Party MP Yaw Shin Leong was expelled by his party, while PAP MP Michael Palmer resigned after admitting to an affair with a People’s Association constituency director.

In these two by-elections in 2012 and 2013, the WP beat the PAP by wide margins.
This time round, it appears more likely that the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) – with its history of electoral campaigns in the West – will contest the seat. In a statement SDP chairman Chee Soon Juan noted his party “looks forward to contesting the by-election that will be called in the constituency,” while the other opposition parties have yet to make a decision. Independent candidate Samir Salim Neji, who garnered 150 votes (or 0.6 per cent of the vote in the SMC) during last year’s general election, has expressed interest in running again.

In other political news in Singapore, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong described Dr. Tan Cheng Bock’s announcement of his presidency bid as a “calculated political gambit“. “It is open to many interpretations or misinterpretations,” he added. In other news, ST reported high prices for wedding banquets in top hotels, with some hitting the $2,000-mark. On the issue of cost, expatriate families are finding it difficult to enrol their children into local schools, while fees at the international schools are often too high for them.

Finally in Seoul, South Korea, Google-developed programme AlphaGo secured a third consecutive win over Go grandmaster Lee Se Dol, marking a breakthrough for “intuitive” artificial intelligence (AI). Many thought it would take AI at least a decade to crack the ancient Chinese board game of Go.

 

Featured image by Chong Yew.

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Dr Tan Cheng Bock speaking at the press conference.
Speaking at the press conference at MHC Asia Healthcare building today, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, 75, announced his intentions to run for the next presidential election.

by Bertha Henson

What a brilliant opening gambit by Dr Tan Cheng Bock!

Announce intention to contest the presidential election early – so that the Constitutional Commission will have to watch how it draws up candidacy criteria in case it disqualifies someone who had qualified before.

Announce intention to contest early – so that those people who did not know who Dr Tan was in the last presidential election will know now.

Announce intention to contest early – and scare off others thinking of running because this is the man who, after all, almost became president.

Gasp! Since when did Dr Tan become a …politician?

Dr Tan was coy about whether the timing had anything to do with influencing the commission’s recommendations on new eligibility rules. He told the media that he couldn’t possibly be “so great’’ that the commission would set out to “eliminate’’ him. The commission is supposed to get its job done before the PE is due by August 2017.

Dear Doc, you did lose by a whisker – 7,382 votes – to President Tony Tan in a nation-wide poll. And that was a four-way fight too. Who knows how a straight fight would have turned out?

In 2011, he sailed right through the selection process along with Dr Tony Tan, with The Presidential Electoral Committee making public its views that it was “satisfied” Dr Tan Cheng Bock was a man “of integrity, good character and reputation”.

Even so, there was some rumbling about whether a medical general practitioner, even if he was a long-time chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings, really, really qualifies to look after the nation’s finances.

Frankly, if there is anything that could disqualify the Doc, it would be age. He would be 76 next year and the presidency is a six-year term. But setting a ceiling on age would have people up in arms and isn’t in line with the G’s emphasis on active ageing. Plus, it would disqualify the likes of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, 74, the Doc’s old friend from Raffles Institution days, from the ring.

Or, maybe the commission would try to ensure that candidates were non-partisan by eliminating those with past party political affiliations. But that would knock out nearly all past contenders including past presidents like the late Ong Teng Cheong as well as the sitting President.

Yesterday, Dr Tan declined to be drawn into commenting more on the commission. He said he had given it his feedback privately. That’s smart because a wrong word in public can be interpreted as bad mouthing a high-level panel that is headed by no less a person than the Chief Justice. That is not presidential behaviour.

He also danced a fine line between speaking up for the people and keeping to the president’s rather more quiet constitutional role as custodian of finances. He does not want to be a separate power centre which would “distort the whole political picture’’. If he has views, he would talk to the relevant minister privately, he said.

Well, that knocks out one of the worries people had that the elected President shouldn’t think he is a second Prime Minister. So Dr Tan, if eligible and if elected, will have private chats with ministers and G departments, who can’t possibly close the door on a president, right? Or treat him like an Opposition MP? That would be rude. At least, he will have the Istana to himself and doesn’t need an invitation to a garden party. You can read about that kerfuffle here.

Now, one of the things about throwing your hat in the ring early is that you are allowing yourself to be put under scrutiny for an even longer time than usual. That means some verbal swordplay which can cut sharp. Dr Tan can be expected to be asked to elaborate on his motivations, agenda, past political affiliations and political ideology, for example. He is a public figure again and cannot not respond to questions of public interest.

What his erstwhile comrades in the People’s Action Party will say about his opening move, for example? That the former MP for Ayer Rajah is politicising the presidency? Or may the best man win?

To be sure, Dr Tan is a formidable figure even among the party faithful who elected him – a backbencher – into the Central Executive Committee in 1987. And who has not heard the story of how Dr Tony Tan, a former Deputy Prime Minister who was nicely ensconced as chairman of Singapore of Press Holdings, had to be called upon by the establishment to do combat with the doughty doctor in 2011?

Will Dr Tony Tan, who is 76 now, be asked to seek a second term? Or is there another heavyweight out there who can take on the Doc? Because, surely, the Establishment will not simply let him walk into the job, right?

 

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Black clock showing 8.30.

DEJA vu is in the air.

Ah, that familiar feeling… it’s in politics, for starters. Former People’s Action Party (PAP) MP for Ayer Rajah (1980-2006) Tan Cheng Bok has that he would be making a second bid for the Singapore presidency next year. “The election is 17 months away. I feel it’s now timely to state my decision. I intend and will contest the coming Presidential Election in 2017,” Dr Tan, 75, said at a press conference. This, despite the fact that the Constitutional Commission has not released the eligibility criteria for potential candidates. Elections have to be held by August 2017. In the 2011 election, Dr Tan lost to President Tony Tan Keng Yam by 7,382 votes – a 0.35 per cent margin – in a four-man contest.

Speaking of elections and deja vu, ballot papers and other documents used in the General Election on Sep 11 last year will be destroyed today (March 12). In accordance with the Parliamentary Elections Act, they have been kept in sealed boxes stored at the Supreme Court for a compulsory six-month period since the elections. These boxes will be sent to the Tuas Incineration Plant.

In retail, it seems that the management of JEM mall can’t cop a break. Parts of the Jurong shopping mall was flooded – again – with waste water on Friday evening. The Straits Times reported that a shopper noticed water leakage which was accompanied by a strong smell in the evening, at about 8pm. Later on, the mall management stopped the operations of affected escalators and cordoned off some areas. The mall has had several of these incidents since its opening in 2013.

Economic growth will be at its lowest since 2008/09 levels – remember the global financial crisis then? – if fresh DBS and Credit Suisse GDP forecasts for Singapore holds true. According to DBS forecasts released on Mar 11, the bank revised its GDP growth forecast for the country to 1.5 per cent for 2016. This is down from its earlier projection of 2.1 per cent. Credit Suisse now expects the GDP to register at 1.7 per cent this year. This is a decrease from an earlier estimate of 1.9 per cent.

And in sports, it seems like just yesterday that an English Premier League player moving to Singapore was a novelty. Former Manchester United great Dwight Yorke, who is in Singapore as part of a commercial engagement, reportedly told local media that “everything in Singapore is fantastic, from the great weather to the good food” and “if there is a job opportunity from a managerial point of view, I might look into it”. Former Liverpool and Arsenal player Jermaine Pennant created some much-needed excitement in the local football scene when he joined S-League’s Tampines Rovers earlier this year.

 

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Dr Tan Cheng Bock

by Wan Ting Koh

DR TAN Cheng Bock can and wants to be Singapore’s next President, never mind the fact that the Constitutional Commission has not yet released the eligibility criteria for potential candidates.

In a press conference held at the MHC Asia Healthcare building in Commonwealth today (March 11), Dr Tan made a strong case for his eligibility – ranging from his mental acuity (despite his age – 75 years old) to his experience in both the finance sector and as a former Member of Parliament for Ayer Rajah from 1980 to 2006.

Dr Tan’s intention to stand for election follows an announcement in January to review Singapore’s Elected Presidency system in Parliament. The changes to a candidate’s eligibility requirements have yet to be announced and are due in the third quarter of this year.

 

Changes to come?

During the first session of Parliament in January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong responded to the need to “refresh” the political system. He said that while the principles behind the qualifying criteria for presidential candidates are still justifiable, they needed to be brought up to date to account for current circumstances. Singapore has changed over the past 25 years since the elected presidency scheme was introduced, he said. The country’s reserves have grown, and the size and complexity of organisations subject to these reserves have increased as well. While candidates are required to possess a paid-up capital of at least $100 million, that amount in 1990 would have a real value of $158 million today, said the PM.

 

Dr Tan Cheng Bock and his team
Dr Tan Cheng Bock and his team, comprising of (from left to right), Mr Lee Chiu San, G K Singam, Mr Alex Tan Tiong Hee, Mr Wang Swee Chuang, Mr Loganathan and Mr Kassim Syed Mohamed.

This time, this Tan

When asked what he thought the changes could be, Dr Tan declined to comment – though he did give his feedback to the commission, he said.

For the majority of the presser, the former runner-up of the 2011 Presidential Election and medical doctor put his case forward to some 50 journalists for why he was not only eligible, but would do a good job if elected as President. In the 2011 election, he narrowly lost to President Tony Tan by 7,382 votes – a 0.35 per cent margin. The two other Tans in the race, Mr Tan Jee Say and Mr Tan Kin Lian, secured about a third of the overall votes.

Yes, he’s 75 years old, but so what? Asked about a possible change to the age criteria of the requirements, Dr Tan said he was in good health, and mentally sharp. He watches what he eats, and walks a lot for exercise. He also pointed to Malaysia’s Dr Mahathir, whom he described as a “colleague” who was still “trying to improve the country”.

“We are looking after your money…If I’m not good in here, I will announce that, cause I will be doing you a disservice,” Dr Tan said, adding: “I don’t think age is a problem.”

Dr Tan also described himself as a “unifying figure”, that he would not be a “proxy to a political party” but would instead “represent all Singaporeans”. He is independent and outspoken, which means he’ll stand up to fight injustice, he said.

“If a Government policy is bad then I must voice out and ask for a review in the policy… I don’t think I can stay silent.”

Then, of course, there’s the long list of high-ranking appointments he’s scooped up, including being Coordinating Chairman for a year from 1987 for all Government Parliamentary Committees, and director of the Land Transport Authority (LTA). In the private sector, he was chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings, a logistics and shipping company; and in the medical field, he was Chairman of the Society of Private Practice and a board member of the Singapore Medical Association Ethics Committee.

 

Running man

Regardless of how Dr Tan sees himself, whether he will be eligible to run ultimately depends on what the commission says in its review. In 2011, he sailed right through the selection process along with Dr Tony Tan.

In a press release, the Presidential Electoral Committee had said it was “satisfied” Dr Tan Cheng Bock was a man “of integrity, good character and reputation”.

In fact, it was Mr Tan Jee Say who nearly fell out of the race – the bank he had worked for, AIB Govett (Asia), did not quite have the required paid-up capital of $100 million. His position in the company was Regional Managing Director – again, not quite the “Chief Executive Office” listed as an eligibility requirement.

Still, the committee determined both his title and the company were of “comparable seniority” and “equivalent complexity”, and allowed him to stand for election. Mr Tan Jee Say has said he would not rule out standing in the next election, which has to be held by August next year.

While it’s unclear what changes the commission will recommend, Dr Tan’s ambition is without doubt. At the end of his presentation, he said: “I now declare that I intend, and will, contest the coming Presidential Elections in 2017.”

Constitutional Commission, what say you?

 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this report said that Dr Tan Cheng Bock was former MP of Radin Mas. This is incorrect. We are sorry for the error.

Additional reporting by Reuben Wang and Lionel Ong.

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Grey and red coloured alarm clock showing 8.30, on top of a

NOT happy with your maid agency? By December next year, start checking the agencies for a new grading system called Trustmark by the Consumers Association of Singapore and the Manpower Ministry. Few details were given on how the agencies will be graded but may include how well they treat their maids, and how honest they are to prospective employers. Employers can rate the agencies they use by June this year.

Maids are important members of many Singapore households – especially with more married couples working. The latest General Household Survey, which checks the Republic’s household demographic data every five years, released yesterday showed 53.8 per cent of married couples both working, up from 47.1 per cent in 2010. Other key findings from this morning’s headlines:

From ST:
More leave cars at home to take trains, buses to work
English most common home language, bilingualism also up

From TODAY:
More in S’pore are better educated, own homes
Greater number of S’poreans not identifying with any religion
Use of public transport is up, but so is traveling time

From Lianhe Zaobao:
– Significant rise in proportion of young singles

If you’re going away for a vacation for the upcoming Good Friday weekend, you’ll be able to check-in at Changi Airport from 12 or 24 hours before the plane takes off. The airport has opened common early check-in counters at all three terminals, with a lounge at Terminal 1. The counters and lounge are open from 6am to midnight daily.

Speaking of early birds, Dr Tan Cheng Bock who lost the 2011 presidential election by a hair said yesterday that he would announce tomorrow if you will stand for the election again. He lost to current president Tony Tan by 7,382 votes in a four-way fight that included Mr Tan Kin Lian and Mr Tan Jee Say. No word yet on when the next presidential election will be held, but it has to be by August next year.

 

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