Lecturer, Law Programmes
School of Law
Singapore University of Social Sciences
Many Singaporeans accessing the day’s news feeds on 20 February 2018 as they sipped their afternoon kopi probably found themselves simultaneously baffled and affronted by the news that “Singapore agrees to UK request to not cane suspect if found guilty”.
Baffled – because the American government had tried unsuccessfully many years ago to pressurise Singapore into agreeing not to acquaint the rear end of one of its citizens, a young delinquent known as Michael Fay, with the blunt end of a rotan, but plucky little Singapore stood its ground firmly and went on to cane the vandal. Had Singapore and her vaunted principles and values changed so much in the intervening years? Continue reading
Fourth-year LLB student
Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore
IN A RECENT opinion piece published in The Straits Times, Professor Walter Woon examined the role and functions of the Attorney-General (“AG”) and argued that the AG’s independence should be strengthened, among other ways, by separating the AG’s current function as a legal advisor to the government from his prosecutorial function. With respect to the latter, Professor Woon reminds us that decisions to prosecute or not involve a “judgment call”, and that “[t]here are many reasons why a decision may be taken not to prosecute.” However, such decisions have serious consequences for accused persons, victims of crimes, and the public. Continue reading
LLB (National University of Singapore) (2017)
Guest student contributor
In May, Dr Tan Cheng Bock filed an application to determine, among other things, how the hiatus-triggered reserved election would be administered. His application was dismissed by the High Court on 7 July 2017. As Dr Tan’s appeal heads to the Court of Appeal this Monday (31 July), this post discusses his primary challenge to constitutional reforms. Continue reading
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU
ON 9 NOVEMBER 2016, Parliament enacted the most significant constitutional amendment in the 21st century thus far, making wide-ranging changes to the Elected Presidency scheme. These amendments were preceded by a detailed examination of aspects of the scheme by a Constitutional Commission chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon which rendered its report on 17 August, and a white paper issued by the Government in response to the report on 15 September.
Most of the debate on the constitutional amendment bill that took place in Parliament on 8 and 9 November concerned major alterations that were proposed. These were the increase in the qualifying financial value of a company from $100 million to $500 million for a prospective candidate seeking a certificate of eligibility under what the Commission termed the private-sector qualifying office route, and the introduction of elections from time to time reserved for members of particular minority communities.
What should not be overlooked are the changes proposed and made to the mechanics for electing the President. Continue reading
Professor and Provost’s Chair
Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore
SØREN KIERKEGAARD once said: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” This sentiment reflects the evolution of the elected presidency (EP) as a facet of the development of the Singapore Constitution, not by judicial interpretation, but executive determination, within the context of a dominant party state. The development of the Constitution of Singapore in this manner is facilitated by the reality that constitutional amendment is a political and practical possibility.
The elected presidency was and is a unique constitutional experiment whose authors were determined to see it succeed, yet uncertain of how it would operate in practice. Its introduction was thought crucial to good governance, to check an untrammeled government, through pre-emptively instituting presidential ‘veto’ powers in relation to a limited range of primarily fiscal government decisions, providing a ‘second key’ to the national kitty. This was reflected in the strong entrenchment provisions that accompanied the institution, signifying its importance before it was tested. However flexibility was retained by not bringing into operation this special entrenchment regime. Instead, the institution could be modified following the general Article 5(2) procedure, which requires the support of a 2/3 parliamentary majority. The need to preserve the ability to refine the system reflects its experimental quality. Alarm has regularly been expressed where understandings contrary to the institutional design of its authors have been expressed (for example, by presidential candidates campaigning during elections), such as the opinion that the EP could operate as a second centre of political power, or that the EP could act in a proactive manner or in a publicly adversarial fashion vis-à-vis the government. Continue reading
Adjunct Professor of Law
National University of Singapore
Selecting the Elected President
In Part I of this post, I examined how the constitutional amendments to the eligibility criteria further limit voters’ choices. In this Part, I will examine how the lack of elections where there is no contest weakens the President’s claim of a mandate.
A major sticking point concerning the process of electing the President has been section 15 of the Presidential Elections Act which stipulates that if, on nomination day, ‘only one candidate stands nominated’ that candidate shall be declared ‘to be elected to the office of President.’ This happened twice, in 1999 and again in 2005 when the late SR Nathan stood as the sole candidate in both elections.
The situation changed completely in 2011 when four candidates stood contested the elections. Former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan Keng Yam emerged triumphant, but only just. He garnered 35.2% of the popular vote, beating his closest opponent, Tan Cheng Bock by a mere 7,382 votes (or 0.35% of the votes cast).
The ‘election’ of 1999 and 2005 and that of 2011 bring into sharp relief the fact that none of the winning candidates had an absolute majority of the votes cast. In the case of President Nathan, who faced no opponent, it is difficult to ascertain what proportion of the public actually supported him or gave him their mandate to function as President. The case of President Tony Tan is more problematic. Notwithstanding his victory in this four-man race, his share of 35.2% was just slightly more than a third of all votes cast. Viewed conversely, a large segment of the population – close to 65% of all electors – were actually in favour of the candidates. It would thus be difficult to claim the moral high ground to say that such a majority gave him a true mandate from the people to speak and act for them as President.
Such was the system as of 2011. This matter of majorities and a change of electoral process was canvassed before the Constitutional Commission. I proposed that in the event of an election involving more than two candidates, a second-round run-off election should be held to give the final winner a clear majoritarian mandate. This system is not new, having been used in countries such as Austria, Brazil, Finland and India. The object of this two-round run-off system is to have the second round of voting limited to the top two first-round candidates. Thus, in the case of Singapore’s 2011 election, a run-off would have pitched Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock against each other. Whoever won that election would have an absolute majority.