Constitutional Change in Singapore’s Elected Presidency: Navigating Questions of Ethnic Identity and Representation

Blog of the IACL, AIDC

By Dr Jaclyn L. Neo

Jaclyn Neo - Headshot

For the first time since its independence in 1965, Singapore has a female President. Madam Halimah Yaacob was sworn in as the country’s 8th President on 14 September 2017. She is also Singapore’s first Malay President since the presidency was changed from a nominated office to an elected one in 1991.

Several constitutional changes led up to Madam Halimah’s election. The first took place in 1991, when the Presidency was changed to an elected office. This change was justified on the grounds that the President needed a democratic mandate to wield additional constitutional powers. Under the British Westminster parliamentary system, after which Singapore’s political system is modelled, the head of state is mostly a ceremonial position. Accordingly, Singapore’s President only had limited discretionary powers, i.e. over the appointment of the Prime Minister, declaring the office of the Prime Minister vacant, and refusing a request…

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