Tagged: Singapore

Mandates, Majorities and the Legitimacy of the Elected President (Part I of II)


A poster of Tony Tan Keng Yam, who was eventually elected as President at the 2011 presidential election. (By Jack Lee [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via the Wikimedia Commons.)

Kevin YL Tan
Adjunct Professor of Law
National University of Singapore

An Elected President to Check an Elected Government

The Elected Presidency was created as a knee-jerk reaction to the People’s Action Party’s (PAP’s) worst nightmare: that in a ‘freak election’, ‘irrational’ voters might cause a seismic shift in voting patterns to bring into office an irresponsible and profligate government. The Westminster parliamentary system of government, with its fusion of executive and legislative powers, would provide no check on such a government if it had a parliamentary majority. It was thus necessary to create a countervailing force to put the brakes on the excesses of such a government.

Back in 1984, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s solution was to transform the office of the President into an elected one. The logic behind the need to elect the President has been enunciated and emphasized many times: If you want someone to check on an elected government, you need to cloak him or her with the requisite moral authority to do so and this can only come from being elected.

Why Elections Matter

Elections are the bedrock of democratic representation and participation. Those elected are presumed to have the mandate of those who elected them, and thus a corresponding legitimacy to undertake whatever their office requires of them. The bigger the majority, the greater the legitimacy and the more secure the mandate. At the same time, elections are desirable because they throw up the ‘best’ candidates available for the job or mission. However, when we look at how Singapore’s ‘Elected’ President gains office, these precepts quickly fall by the wayside.

Prior to 1991, all presidents were nominated and ‘elected’ by Parliament. There was no real electoral contest in this closed system. Parliament’s ‘electing’ of the President was really a reaffirmation of the Government’s choice; nothing more. The constitutional provisions that followed transformed the office into an elected one, albeit with serious limitations. The idea was that elections gave holders of the office a majoritarian mandate upon which sat its moral authority to control an elected government. The logic of this idea surely lay in (a) giving the electorate a real choice in terms of the candidates; and (b) ensuring that the chosen candidate had indeed been put through the rigours of elections and emerged with an undisputed majority.

However, provisions in the Constitution and the Presidential Election Act subvert this logic in two ways. First, by severely limiting voters’ choice in stipulating the type of candidate who can stand for election based on a mixed criterion of executive experience and financial savvy; and second, by allowing sole candidates to be declared ‘elected’. In the first of this two-part post, I will examine how recent amendments to the Constitution have narrowed the field further by tightening the criteria for ‘private sector’ candidates and the institution of a race-based rotation system of elections.

Continue reading

The Constitutional Status of the Proclamation of Singapore

Proclamation of Singapore

The Proclamation of Singapore, signed by Lee Kuan Yew on 9 August 1965. (From the National Archives of Singapore, archived in the Internet Archives.)

Dr Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU

THIS MORNING at 9:00 am, a 2012 audio recording of the Proclamation of Singapore by the late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was broadcast on radio and television. It was on this day half a century ago that Singapore declared its independence from the Federation of Malaysia. Back then, the proclamation was read by a Radio Singapore announcer as Lee had “too many other things to do in quick succession”, including the famous noon press conference at which he teared up. Continue reading

Judging the Constitution Conference

Poster.pdfBy Preston Wong & Sri Balan s/o Krishnan

On 28 and 29 May 2015, the NUS Centre for Asian Legal Studies organized a landmark conference titled Judging the Constitution: The Theory and Practice of Constitutional Interpretation in Singapore. This two-day conference saw over 10 constitutional scholars presenting various reflections on the formation, transformation and reformation of Singapore constitutional law. The papers presented at the conference will be published in an edited volume by Routledge Publishing by the end of the year. Continue reading

Substantive Legitimate Expectations in Singapore

Supreme Court of Singapore

The Supreme Court of Singapore. (By Jacklee, CC-BY-SA-4.0, via the Wikimedia Commons.) The High Court’s recognition of substantive legitimate expectation is a welcome development that echoes developments in other common law jurisdictions.

Swati Jhaveri
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore

RECENTLY IN THE landmark decision of Chiu Teng @ Kallang Pte Ltd v Singapore Land Authority (2013; hereafter, “Chiu Teng”)[1] the High Court recognised the doctrine of substantive legitimate expectations as part of Singapore administrative law. This is a welcome development that echoes developments in other common law jurisdictions. As is usual at any early stage in the law’s development there are a number of questions left to be considered on how the ground of review should evolve over time, including questions of the foundations of the doctrine and how the court proposes striking a balance between the applicant and the administration.[2] Continue reading

Hopeful Steps on Harassment

By Vassil (CC-BY-3.0), from the Wikimedia Commons

Dr Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU

THERE IS MUCH to like about the Protection from Harassment Bill[1] that was introduced into Parliament on 3 March 2014.

First, it performs a housekeeping task by consolidating criminal offences relating to harassment into a single Act of Parliament. Thus, sections 13A to 13D of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act[2] will be repealed and re-enacted in modified forms in the new Act. The maximum penalties will be enhanced – intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress to someone can currently be punished with a fine of up to $5,000, but in future a District Court will also be able to impose a jail term of up to six months in appropriate cases.[3] Continue reading

Reflections on Press Freedom in Singapore

A stack of newspapers

Photograph by Daniel R Blume [CC-BY-SA-2.0],
via the Wikimedia Commons.

Dierdre Grace Morgan
Third Year LLB student
School of Law, SMU

PERSPECTIVES ON PRESS FREEDOM, a talk on international and local perspectives on press freedom, was held at the Singapore Management University on 3 September 2012. It featured Dr David Goldberg, Senior Honorary Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Computers and Communications Law, Queen Mary College, University of London; and Dr Cherian George, Associate Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University. The session was chaired by Dr Jack Tsen-Ta Lee from the SMU School of Law.

Listening to the presentations by the three speakers, what stood out for me personally was Singapore’s unique state of media regulation. Continue reading

Bukit Brown Cemetery: You Can Sue, but You Won’t Win

A statue of a sepoy guarding a tomb in Bukit Brown Cemetery

A statue of a sepoy guarding a tomb in Bukit Brown Cemetery. (Photograph © 2011 Jack Tsen-Ta Lee.)

Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Assistant Professor of Law
School of Law, SMU

THE CAUSE CÉLÈBRE that is Bukit Brown Cemetery has galvanized numerous civil society groups into calling for its preservation. They are responding to the Ministry of National Development’s decision to build a road across the historic burial ground to ease traffic congestion along Lornie Road and the Pan Island Expressway during peak hours, and to allow for future traffic growth.

Can an application be made to the High Court for judicial review against the MND to prevent it from constructing the planned eight-lane highway? This is a question of administrative law – the branch of law relating to how one sues the Government when it is alleged to have acted unlawfully. The remedies that might be sought include a quashing order to cancel the original decision, and a mandatory order to require the MND to reconsider its decision, relying on the correct legal principles. Continue reading