Key changes to EP and NCMP schemes introduced

Changes to the elected presidency and Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) schemes were introduced in Parliament yesterday, bringing them one step closer to being effected.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean tabled the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, draft laws of the proposed changes, which will be up for debate at the next sitting of Parliament, likely to be next month.

The changes are part of a larger review of the political system, first raised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the debate on the President's Address in January.

Most of them were covered by the White Paper released last month, which set out the Govern- ment's response to recommendations by the Constitutional Commission set up to review the elected presidency scheme.

The key changes include:

Reserved elections

An election will be reserved for a particular racial group if there has not been a president from the group for the five most recent presidential terms. This applies to the Chinese, Malay and Indian and other minority communities.

A committee will be set up to determine whether an individual satisfies the legal definition of being a member of these communities for the purposes of the election.

Similar committees are set up before general elections to determine if candidates for the Group Representation Constituency scheme belong to the Malay, Indian and other minority communities.

Meanwhile, any open election will be open to people of all races, including those who do not fall under the major racial categories.

Parliament will decide when the clock starts on the reserved elections, which will determine if the upcoming presidential election due next year needs to be reserved for any particular racial group.

More stringent criteria

A candidate from the private sector must have helmed a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity to qualify, instead of $100 million in paid-up capital now.

The shareholder equity threshold will have to be reviewed at least once every 12 years - that is, two presidential terms - by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC).

The PEC can recommend that the sum be raised, but not lowered. Parliament will then decide if the recommendation should be adopted.

Removal over false statements

Even after being elected, the president can be removed from office if he is found to have made false statements to the PEC, which certifies a candidate's eligibility to run for president.

This includes situations when a candidate has intentionally made a false or misleading statement, or knowingly failed to state a fact that is important in determining his eligibility.

More advisers, more consultation

The Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) will be enlarged to include two more members, bringing the total to eight.

The president must also consult the CPA before exercising most of his discretionary powers, such as over fiscal matters.

The council must state the number of votes for or against its recommendations, and the grounds for these recommendations. Similarly, if the president withholds his assent to Supply Bills, he must publish his reasons for doing so in the Government Gazette.

Recrafting entrenchment provisions

A set of provisions that "entrenches", or protects, the presidency by making it difficult for Parliament to amend the office, will be recrafted into a two-tier system.

The first tier covers the establishment of the elected presidency, while the second tier has to do with the president's powers to safeguard the reserves and make key public- service appointments.

To introduce changes to the first-tier provisions, the Government must get either the president or the CPA's support, or the support of more than half the electorate in a national referendum.

To pass the changes, they must be supported by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. For the second-tier provisions, the Government must get a three-quarters parliamentary majority to pass any changes.

The recrafted provisions will not be brought into force for now.

More NCMPs

The maximum number of NCMPs will be increased from the current nine to 12, and they will be given the same voting rights as elected MPs.

This article was first published on Oct 11, 2016.
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