Hands up — those who prefer rigged presidential elections

My guess that is most Malay Singaporeans, and many non-Malays too, would think that the next person to occupy the largely-ceremonial post of President should be Malay. There is a general sense that this position should be rotated among the different ethnic groups. Out of six presidents that we’ve had so far, only the first one, Yusof Ishak (right) was Malay. Of the rest, one was Eurasian, two Chinese and two Indian.

It should be the turn for a Malay again, many would argue.

Well, yes and no. I actually think a stronger case can be made for the next president to be a butch lesbian of Malay-Siamese ancestry who happens to be a divorcee and single mother. We’ve never had one before.

However, all such daydreams come up against the harsh reality that since 1993, this is an elected position. Who emerges as the eventual President is determined by the dynamics of nomination and voting.

While these are still early days yet — the Elections Department only began issuing application forms for the Certificate of Eligibility on 1 June 2011 — from various news reports, those identified as potential contenders have all been male Chinese. This is not surprising since the extremely narrow conditions specified in Article 19(2) of the Constitution as to eligibility effectively filter out a lot of Malays through Article 19(2)(g), the third limb of which requires  a candidate to have headed a company with paid-up capital of at least $100 million. The reality in Singapore’s private sector, and even statutory boards, is that Chinese predominate. Males too.

Article 19 says:

(2) A person shall be qualified to be elected as President if he —

(a) is a citizen of Singapore;
(b) is not less than 45 years of age;
(c) possesses the qualifications specified in Article 44(2)(c) and (d);
(d) is not subject to any of the disqualifications specified in Article 45;
(e) satisfies the Presidential Elections Committee that he is a person of integrity, good character and reputation;
(f) is not a member of any political party on the date of his nomination for election; and
(g) has for a period of not less than 3 years held office —
 – (i) as Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General or Permanent Secretary;
 – (ii) as chairman or chief executive officer of a statutory board to which Article 22A applies;
 – (iii) as chairman of the board of directors or chief executive officer of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act (Cap. 50) with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency; or
 – (iv) in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organisation or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which, in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee, has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President.
Given these rules, I wouldn’t be surprised if the only realistic source of eligible Malays were from government ranks: ministers and the recently-retired Speaker of Parliament, Abdullah Tarmugi. But then, a funny thing happened last week. After news broke that former People’s Action Party (PAP) member of parliament (MP) Tan Cheng Bock was keen on contesting, Lim Boon Heng said that it might not be wise for those too closely associated with the PAP to enter the fray.

Given the current sentiment among the electorate, Singaporeans might prefer a President who is not so closely linked to the People’s Action Party (PAP), retired minister Lim Boon Heng said yesterday when asked about former PAP MP Tan Cheng Bock’s bid to run for the Elected Presidency.

The former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office said he read the news of Dr Tan’s intention with “very, very mixed feelings”.

Both Mr Lim and Dr Tan were first elected to Parliament in the 1980 General Election (GE). They were parliamentary colleagues for 26 years before Dr Tan stepped down from politics prior to the 2006 GE. Mr Lim retired from the political scene before the recent GE.

Speaking at the sidelines of a People’s Association event, Mr Lim said: “My sense is that people would prefer if there were someone who can be a strong unifying symbol for Singaporeans, who’s not so closely related to the PAP.”

While there could be exceptions, he added: “I don’t know whether Dr Tan Cheng Bock, in spite of his independent streak of thinking and expression of views, fully meets the bill.”

— Today newspaper, 30 May 2011, S’poreans might prefer a  President ‘not so closely related’ to PAP: Lim Boon Heng

If Tan Cheng Bock is “too closely linked”  then all other former MPs, ministers and Tarmugi, are out. On the face of it, Lim might just be musing about how, in light of the present anti-PAP mood as evidenced by the vote-swing against the party in the 7 May general election, identification with the PAP would be a liability.

There are other possibilities in explaining Lim’s remarks. Perhaps the PAP has another name in mind from one of the statutory boards or even someone that only qualifies under the catch-all wording of Article 19(2) (g) (iv), and Tan Cheng Bock’s likely candidacy throws a spanner in the works. S R Nathan, the current president, for example, was a virtual unknown when he was wheelbarrowed into the Istana (the presidential palace) in 1999 through an uncontested  “election”. In other words, it may be that the PAP is hoping for another walkover in 2011 so that its preferred candidate gets easy passage.

But Lim is getting it wrong. Anyone, especially if he is obscure, who gets to be President courtesy of a walkover is going to be so strongly identified with the PAP he would be seen as a stooge. That act of wheelbarrowing is identification enough.

To come back to the point, the chances of a Malay Singaporean ascending to the Presidency is low unless the PAP engineers an uncontested election allowing their preferred nominee (provided he or she is Malay) to “win”. Yet this would violate the spirit of the Constitution. Moreover, should the PAP be seen resorting to its dirty tricks again, smearing the reputation of candidates it did not secretly endorse or somehow getting the Presidential Elections Committee to disqualify all opponents, the electorate would quickly see the PAP as reverting to type, promises of reform cast away like used tissue.

Thus, the desire for orderly ethnic rotation stands in contradiction to the desire for a more competitive political field. This is not to suggest that Malays cannot win in an open election; I can well imagine many non-Malays, in the spirit of fairness, voting for a a Malay candidate. The problem is that under the present rules, few of them can get past the nomination hurdle.  So, to have any hope that the next President would be Malay, we’re either going to have to rig the election or free up the rules.

46 Responses to “Hands up — those who prefer rigged presidential elections”

  1. 1 Calculon 6 June 2011 at 20:27

    Presidential election regardless, a wheelbarrow is a horrible contraption to operate, given that the operator needs to be an abled body person, requiring to lift half the weight of the load, at the same time maneuver the steering by purposefully off-balancing the weight distribution, overdoing it, risk tipping the barrow sideways, if not to avoid, it meant akwardly moving sideways like a crab.

  2. 3 Ben 6 June 2011 at 20:34

    Currently the three candidates running for Elected Presidency are: Tan Kin Lian, Tan Cheng Bok and George Yeo.

    Both George Yeo and Tan Cheng Bok were former Member of the Parliament under PAP. Despite speaking out during their times as MPs, they voted along party lines and conforms to the party whip when voting for parliamentary acts, such as those that reduces the power of an elected president.

    Therefore, I deem Tan Kin Lian as the only one people should vote for, especially if you are the 40% who did not vote for PAP and wishes for real checks and balances.

    Tan Cheng Bok quitted the party only recently. Action speaks louder than words. He should have quitted 15 to 20 years ago if he is really sincere.

    George Yeo is still with the PAP, definitely you won’t want to hand all keys to the PAP, especially when PM Lee’s wife controls Temasek Holding.

    • 4 The 7 June 2011 at 10:31

      TKL was a 30-year card-carrying member of the PAP. Only resigned a few years back. Wonder why he wasn’t fielded in any of the past GEs?

      • 5 Ben 7 June 2011 at 22:08

        He may have offended the party cadres by speaking his mind and challenging those in power.

        Only “yes man” and “yes woman” who kee chiu to support PAP policies got in. That may be the reason he is never fielded despite his accomplishment.

        Further he is the only one with the experience to manage investment in excess of one billion dollars. Certainly someone able to help us find out how much reserves we still have..

    • 6 Francis Sim 9 June 2011 at 15:00

      The president must be free from any political affiliation. That’s why the candidates have to resign from PAP before they can run for elections. Mr Ong Teng Cheong also resigned from PAP before he ran for the elections.

  3. 7 ptjc@pacific.net.sg 6 June 2011 at 21:48

    As usual, superb analysis and absolutely spot-on

  4. 8 jostling 6 June 2011 at 21:56

    Various public comments by MPs suggest TCB was indeed a surprise ticket. Still, whether he is as non-partisan or apolitical as he is made out to be remains to be seen.
    Political surprises are anathema, so it appears there will be at least a 2-horse contest.

  5. 9 Sgcynic 6 June 2011 at 22:09

    Any Singaporean should be able to run for presidency. Let the people decide who is the best person to be president. No artificial barriers please

  6. 10 bluexspore 7 June 2011 at 00:49

    Does Dr Tan Cheng Bock make a good candidate just because he spoke up against policies a few times during his 26 years as an MP? Did he follow up or do anything else besides speaking up? He was an MP for so long but did he do anything to actually improve Singaporeans’ lives? Why did he not say anything before GE 2011? Why is he only speaking up after GE2011 when he’s running for President?

    • 11 Lanslord 7 June 2011 at 11:23

      I believe TCB is not what he makes himself out to be. He would be what I call an ‘opportunist’. He knows the ground sentiment is against PAP (mostly, even those that voted for them during GE2011 for lack of a better choice), and so out he comes declaring that he is a ‘maverick’ and opposed many of PAP’s policies.
      If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would think that TCB is ACTUALLY the PAP-endorsed candidate, but playing the anti-PAP card. LKY knows that his serfs in singapore are now rebelling, and knowing his craftiness, he has placed TCB as the citizens’ obvious choice for president. In fact, he is manipulating TCB behind the scenes, just like how he does now for GIC.
      George Yeo is then put forth as the PAP-endorsed candidate on paper, so that either way, PAP wins.

    • 12 seorang 12 June 2011 at 17:30

      “Who would you vote in Aljunied? Vote WP and you loose 2 ministers,one potential minister and one potential Speaker.Vote PAP and you loose 3 strong opposition members in parliament. You are challenged to make a choice. WP or PAP?”

      Above is what Tan Cheng Bock wrote in his blog entitled ‘A Test of Two Minds’, before the elections.

      His website is a bit difficult to navigate, but if you type ‘opposition’ in the search box on his site, you will see his various blogs penned before and after the elections.

  7. 13 CK Leong 7 June 2011 at 05:23

    Hi Alex,
    Good analysis.
    With respect, I believe that the criteria as reflected in Article 19, is too restrictive.
    I believe that any individual who was born in Singapore (similar to the requirement in USA) should be eligible to be a Presidential candidate.

  8. 14 Alan Wong 7 June 2011 at 10:09

    Come on PAP, the President’s post is largely a ceremonious one. Don’t try to kid us that it is a more important post than that of the Prime Minister and then make it look legitimate that it is holding the vital keys to our reserve funds, as if the one and only one elected President cannot be up to some hanky panky business in cahoots with the elected govt ?

    Our PAP govt has even already decided that the President is not intelligent enough to think for himself/herself whether a death penalty inmate can be pardoned, so will he/she be intelligent to withstand the strong arm tactics of a monkey-business govt ?

    So why not go back to the drawing board and call for a referendum to decide conclusively whether Singaporeans agree to have a figurehead for a President in the first place ? Otherwise later if PAP is ousted, what is there to prevent a non-PAP govt from supporting their own candidate to become the elected President and the citizens are forever at the losing ends ?

  9. 15 How Neutral is "Neutral" 7 June 2011 at 10:27

    It would seem from mainstream media report that TCB is NOT pro-PAP.

    GY seems is still a PAP member. So have to say “maybe” he is a pro-PAP candidate.

    Looks like the votes from the non-PAP supporters will be split between TCB and TKL.

    All 3 candidates are/were former PAP members.
    (looks like any Singaporean with any leadership potential is/was a PAP member. Must be an active tea party circuit).

    TKL has strongest claim to “independence/neutrality” since he resigned from PAP a few years ago.
    He is also least associated with any PAP government.

    Personally, I find this “neutrality” thing to be a wayang.
    I resign my long held political party membership today.
    Tomorrow I am a born-again political virgin(neutral).
    Don’t win Presidency, never mind.
    Reapply for political party membership again after elections.

    Maybe there should be a moratorium of at least 1 year.
    Candidates should resign from political party one year before elections.
    Or if “neutrality” is just wayang, then let them keep their political party membership.

    As for me, having “balls” is more important than being neutral.
    No “balls”, how to protect reserves?

    “The Romans used to say that courage is not the only virtue, but it’s the only one that makes the other virtues possible.”
    — Benjamin Netanyahu to Brian Lamb on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, Sept. 21, 2001

  10. 16 robin_lau@hotmail.com 7 June 2011 at 10:28

    I’m a little skeptical about LBH’s remark about TCB. Am I too sensitive? I have a nagging feeling tat it is just a song and dance to declare tat TCB is not backed by PAP.. thus making him a good and independent “people’s” candidate.

  11. 17 auntielucia 7 June 2011 at 16:22

    I beg to differ that Mr S R Nathan was a “virtual unknown” till he became president. Alex u’ve obviously not been reading old newspapers. SR was 1) deputy secretary of MFA when ministry was in its infancy 2) deputy secretary at Mindef n head of security n intelligence dept 3) he allowed himself to become a hostage in the Laju incident when the Japanese “red” amy hi-jacked a boat from Shell Bukom 4) he was our ambassador to Washington DC and Hi-Com to Malaysia and 5) he was chairman of SPH. If this is yr idea of “virtual unkonwn” then the rest of us must be ghosts! hur,hur, hur!

    • 18 yawningbread 7 June 2011 at 17:12

      Are you kidding? Perhaps we can try asking the average Singaporean who is the current deputy secretary of MFA, or deputy secretary at Mindef?

      • 19 Anon 7 June 2011 at 23:33

        That would indeed be a tough question. There are like half a dozen deputy secretaries at MINDEF alone. lol.

  12. 20 Tris 7 June 2011 at 16:57

    Hi Alex,

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention how Andrew Kuan’s reputation was dragged through the mud when he tried to run against Mr. Nathan during the last Presidential Election – just as another sign of what the PAP might do if you’re not the chosen one.

    • 21 BT 9 June 2011 at 00:34

      Andrew Kuan was a counting agent for the PAP at the GE2011. Not sure that he is as independent as many think he is.

  13. 22 Calculon 7 June 2011 at 17:14

    Now we know who’s collected the forms, but…

    The Presidential Elections Commitee, the gatekeeper, is chaired by the chairman of Public Service Commission, it is a certain Eddie Teo, ex-ISD man! Now considering who would be given such a cushy job…

    …I wonder how often the Sedition Act is called to interpretation. Seditious tendencies, such as inciting hatred against teh government, bringing the elected role of President into disrepute, holding him in contempt. Ferment discontent amongst citizenry with intend to promote ill-will and hostility between different races

    Just so happens I have a copy pinned in front of me (^_^) and this:


  14. 23 Loh 7 June 2011 at 17:18

    Although it’s still early days yet, I wonder why the PAP has not named their candidate for the presidential election. Surely, they must have already picked someone even before the GE. My guess is when George Yeo lost in Aljunied, it screwed up their plans. They now have to decide between endorsing either George or the candidate that was picked earlier. I suspect also, when George said he needed time to make up his mind, the truth was he needed permission from the PAP before he could run for presidency.

    All things considered, I would give my vote to Tan Kim Lian. At least, he tried to do something for the people when he spoke up for those who lost their money in the minibonds scandal. Where was Tan Cheng Bock when the people needed a voice?

  15. 24 prettyplace 7 June 2011 at 17:39

    I know afew handful of Muslims who are comfortably sitting on more then a $100M, who can qualify, however they will not.
    I hope the day comes for them to take their turn too and won’t mind ‘a butch lesbian of Malay-Siamese ancestry who happens to be a divorcee and a single mother.’

    However, now is not the time I don’t see another entrant, perhaps and perhaps one more person, might just pop out of nowhere.

    I think a wise choice must be made by Singaporeans on the hopefuls. It is of paramount importance.
    Thus far, I see only TKL coming forward with a clear road map on the reserves but slightly short on banding Singaporeans together.

    I hope he works on it.

  16. 25 auntielucia 7 June 2011 at 20:50

    Mr Alex Au: average sgrean wld know u? hur, hur, hur! They might not know SR as DS of MFA or Mindef but surely they would know from personal reading or Sg history books, what he did during Laju incident!!! 🙄

    • 26 K Das 8 June 2011 at 19:54

      Alex is more right than wrong.

      The majority of people now, I guess, will not know off-hand anything about the Laju incident and much less about SR’s role in it. His public image was resurrected only during the time when the government persuaded him to contest for the elected Presiden’t post. And thereafter he became a public figure once again of course.

    • 27 Wong WH 13 June 2011 at 19:28

      Whatever Nathan has done since those days, he has surely made up for it with his silence and inactivity. I wonder how he missed all the danger signs created by Raymond Lim, Mah Bow Tan and Wong Kan Seng.

      Anyway, I recognise you as the PAP cheerleader currently going around as Redwhite Spore on Sgforums. You are a PAP plant wrapping yourself in the Singapore flag.

  17. 28 Michael 7 June 2011 at 21:09

    I expect the law to be amended soon.

    To give every race a chance at the Presidency, a new admendment will be introduced whereby the Presidency must be roated among the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others after each term, in that order.

  18. 29 Anon 7 June 2011 at 22:26

    Smart move, Alex. By highlighting LBH’s comments on TCB, you threw a spotlight on George Yeo. PAP is not likely to endorse any candidate this round, to avoid giving him a deathknell. It’ll be a quiet affair this round…

    Unless they endorse Tan Kin Lian. 🙂 it’s possible, given that he is possibly the worst candidate to men in white.

  19. 30 bluexspore 7 June 2011 at 23:13

    auntielucia 7 June 2011 at 16:22 “average sgrean wld know u? hur, hur, hur!” auntielucia seems to be switching to irrelevant and uncalled for personal attack after her argument fell short. Alex Au at no point talked about himself or say or imply that “average sgrean wld know” him. Let’s try to keep the discussion here meaningful and not degenerate into personal attacks. Very disappointing level of conversation.

    auntielucia also overstates the achievement of Nathan in the Laju incident. Essentially Nathan gave in to the terrorists by arranging safe passage for them in return for the hostages.

  20. 31 Tan Tai Wei 7 June 2011 at 23:27

    You think they really wanted an “elected President”? No, LKY just wanted us to go through the motion of an election, in order to rationalise his giving their own President the powers to cripple an opposition government elected at a “freak” voting.

    Their President would then not approve the key appointments to office, precipitating a crisis. Then, either there would have to be a re-election, or “the army would move in”.

    That is why the criteria of a presidential nominee would allow, they thought, only former PAP establishment persons. At any rate, qualified candidates had to also be “of good character”, and here they could still rule out candidates who sneaked in.

    But, just like the Group MPs scheme, it has backfired. How can they now rule out Tan Kim Lian and Ow Chin Bock? They were former PAP. How can they not be of “good character”? So,George Yeo has to change his mind, even change character (he confessed before that he wasn’t cut out for the job).

    LKY never envisaged any President would, like Ong Teng Cheong, really be there scrutinising a PAP government.

    He and his worshippers had assumed that all of us would go along accepting their line that only a “one party rule”, ie. PAP, would do for Singapore. And so, an “elected presidency” was to guard that, against a “freak election”.

    This election caused them an awakening!

  21. 32 YH@2 8 June 2011 at 04:22

    Thanks for the insights.
    It also seems to me that the extra trouble taken the discredit Andrew Kuan (and then deny the COE) was to ensure Nathan remain as President. I wonder if it was to quell any murmurings about racial discrimination. I’m all for freeing up the eligibility rules – in fact just do away with them. We are not daft, we don’t need to be protected from ourselves. (or wait, I think someone thinks we are…)

    Actually after reading this, I got started thinking about the govt policies and policy implementation – whether real and existing or unspoken (and hence not official) – that seem to discriminate. This may not be intentional, hence a review of certain things (policies/implementation) have to be done to make sure no race is penalized unfairly due to socio-economic conditions. And since it’s the presidential elections, we can start with the rules for eligibility. Besides Tarmugi, the other Malay candidate that will satisfy the eligibility from the public sector would be Yaacob Ibrahim…

  22. 33 Henry 8 June 2011 at 07:19

    Hi Alex – superb article and analysis. Congrats! BTW, do you think under the current circumstances, LKY/LHL have failed in their usual careful way of planning for “continuity” for the presidency?

  23. 34 2nd time voter 8 June 2011 at 08:27

    There was coffeeshop talk several months back abt Pillay from the SGX running. Wonder if he’s still waiting in the wings. And yes, still PAP.

  24. 35 Justice&Equality 8 June 2011 at 10:51

    Tan Kin Lian, lets hope you doesn’t have ‘skeleton in you cupboard’ for the power that be to dig it up to derail you chance.

    Best of Luck.

  25. 36 gear_sg@yahoo.com 8 June 2011 at 11:07

    1) If request toward an inovation reform, an “Eurasian” President is needed. who will be qualified ?

  26. 37 Jammie Wong 9 June 2011 at 11:17

    Alex, are saying that: under present situations, article 19(2)(g) is essentially racist & sexist?

    Is it in your view that ..for Malay to succeed politically in present Singapore, the rules must be tweaked to be “lowest-common-denominator”?

  27. 38 Francis Sim 9 June 2011 at 15:01

    Correction: Mr Wee Kim Wee is a Peranakan. He did not speak mandarin at all, he spoke fluent Malay.

    • 40 Robox 18 June 2011 at 01:13

      When we have discussions such as this, we assume individuals who are qualified in all other ways to start with; only then do we begin to make considerations based on ethnicity.

      Reason: The degree of discrimination that ethnic minorities experience DESPITE being qualified in all other ways; discrimination based solely on ethnicity.

  28. 41 Ghanz Lek 10 June 2011 at 16:34

    I think if they want to rig the presidential elections, they might as well stop pretending. After all, PM Lee did say, “Can we one day have a non-Chinese, a Malay-Muslim Prime Minister? It’s possible. Will it happen soon? I don’t think so because finally you have to win votes and these sentiments. Who votes for whom and what makes him identify with that person? These are sentiments that do not disappear completely for a long time, even if people did not talk about it or even if people wish they did not feel it.”


  29. 42 dolphin81 10 June 2011 at 17:41

    I believed when the EP bill was introduced in 1988, LKY seriously considered a real supervisory presidency without messing up the existing system.

    At that time, he was probably worried about the system falling apart once he departed politically and physically. (He could not have known if he would last another 20++ years)

    However, when OTC took over, GCT began to find the EP a nusiance to his (GCT) ambitious plans (global hub, global investment, global talent).

    All of GCT’s plans needed $$$ to function and this would ultimately affect the reserves. Although the EP had limited powers, GCT and most probably LHL almost certainly hated a future where they had to justify certain spending plans to the EP.

    Therefore, the EP once again became a figurehead. However, the EP was not abolished becos LKY (and PAP) would lose face.

    Furthermore, reverting the EP to an official ceremonial role might increase louder calls for more opp MPs in Parliament to check on PAP.

    My understanding is that younger Malays dun really care about a Malay holding the presidency. The income gap means having more Malay tycoons and more desperately unemployed Malays at the same time.

    An upper class Malay President would have no effect on uplifitng the community.

  30. 43 Rabbit 11 June 2011 at 18:14

    Regardless of who will become the president, hopefully elected through the people. I want my president to be pro-active. Thought there are constitutions that restricted my president to act within his capacity, he too can demand for tranparency and accountantability from the ruling party if any report or financial figures submitted to him for approval is ambiguous. He can talk to the press, make gave advice and put the arrogant and egostic ruling party on their toe.

    I wanted my president to be a learned and intelligent one – able to question the ruling party and feel the heart of the people. There is no need to be directly involved in shaping policy since the president do not have executive rights. He can use an indirect method of just talking about it and creating news. PAP hate negative news.

    How I would describe the current president, possessed non of the above quality. Simply put in two word to describe him “dead wood”..

  31. 44 Dummy 15 June 2011 at 18:35

    Please do not miss the forest for the trees..

    This post is redundant, scrap it and convert Istana to a commercial pig farm will save millions as well as make the GDP go up with sales of pigs once it is in production.

    This is a win/win/win solution.


    • 45 yuen 17 June 2011 at 00:22

      the president’s power is meaningful only if cabinet asks him to agree/not agree on specific proposals they choose to put before him; if they dont ask, then he has no opportunity to exercise it; he can speak out and make requests but may or may not get any response

      power involves being able to do specific things through specific channels, including rewarding people for doing what you ask well and punishing those who do it badly; if you are not involved in these activities, then you have no power


  32. 46 Robox 18 June 2011 at 01:09

    My first comment on this topic, and this is regarding the question of whether the next President should be Malay. What I am about to write is one facet of any discussion (or debate) on the EP that, to my knowledge, has never taken place in Singapore.

    Prior to the institution of the EP it was conventional that the titular head of state is a position that would be occupied by a member of an ethnic minority group, which is of course a narrow use of the word “minority”. The convention – which by definition is part of the Constitution, the “unwritten Constitution” to be precise – developed because with Singapore’s population composition, it was deemed more likely than not that the prime minister, the head of government – would be an ethnic Chinese; so far, that has held true.

    Indeed, some of the other British Commonwealth countries, India and Canada notably, continue to strive towards the same ideal of minority visibility in high office, albeit using an expanded meaning of “minority”; our butch, lesbian friend might have qualified if we did too.

    With the institution of the EP, that convention – the Constitution – was changed without a murmur of dissent against how it has now robbed minorities of visibility in high office, most acutely felt, I would think, by Malays. This is not to say that the EP is unconstitutional because the amendment for its provision has been made with the requisite two-thirds majority, just that it’s introduction has overturned convention and without any acknowledgement to the fact.

    However, it is telling by the air of resignation with which you make this comment that you think that the EP is here to stay – I personally feel that one of the many issues that needs addressing at PE2011 is this one but in the context of reverting to the original role that the head of state played:


    “The reality in Singapore’s private sector, and even statutory boards, is that Chinese [who meet the eligibility criteria for the EP] predominate…the chances of a Malay Singaporean ascending to the Presidency is low unless the PAP engineers an uncontested election allowing their preferred nominee (provided he or she is Malay) to “win”.


    Isn’t that how SR Nathan “won”?

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