First hearing today on changes to elected presidency

The hearings on proposed changes to the elected presidency will start today, with at least four academics and a researcher set to speak on the matter.

They are Singapore Management University law dons Eugene Tan and Jack Lee, Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, academic Loke Hoe Yeong from the European Union Centre in Singapore, and human rights researcher Brian Chang.

The five are among 19 individuals and groups who will give their views at four hearings on the elected presidency, instituted in 1991.

They were selected by the Constitutional Commission - formed to review the elected presidency - out of more than 100 individuals and groups who had sent in their views during a public consultation.

Only the Workers' Party declined to participate among those invited. It had called for presidential elections to be abolished in its submissions and said its MPs would speak about the issue in Parliament.

The commission, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, was appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in February to review three aspects of the elected presidency.

The three areas are: the eligibility criteria for candidates; provisions for minority candidates to have a chance of being elected from time to time; and changes to ensure members of the Council of Presidential Advisers have experience in the public and private sectors.

Associate Professor Tan said in his submissions that he agreed qualifying criteria should be made more stringent, given the increase in reserves that the president has to safeguard. But he said any changes should kick in only after the next presidential election due by August next year. "Changing the rules of the game so late in the presidential electoral cycle would upset legitimate expectations. This would also unnecessarily politicise the election for a non-partisan office," he wrote.

Mr Chang and Mr Loke both suggested the creation of a vice-president post to ensure minority candidates get a chance to be elected. The vice-president would have to be of a different race from the president, and must contest the election on the same ticket. Mr Chang said it would ensure anyone of any race will be able to stand in the election.

Dr Lee suggested that a committee be appointed to identify suitable minority candidates with the help of relevant organisations such as civil society groups and unions.

He said this would be similar to how Nominated MPs are chosen by a parliamentary select committee.

The public hearing will be held at the Supreme Court auditorium from 9.30am to 5pm today. The other hearings will be on Friday, and April 26 and May 6.

This article was first published on April 18, 2016.
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