Tan Cheng Bock files court challenge on term count of Elected Presidency

Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock at a press conference on 31 March 2017. (Photo: Amritpal Khaira/Yahoo Singapore)

Former Singapore presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock has filed an affidavit to the High Court to challenge the counting of five terms of Elected Presidency (EP) to trigger this year’s reserved election.

The 76-year-old former Ayer Rajah MP, who held a media conference in March about the issue, questioned about the advice given by the Attorney-General’s Chambers to the government that the first term of EP began with ex-President Wee Kim Wee.

In a post on his Facebook page on Monday (8 May), Tan said. “Since this is a matter of national importance, I sought to find the legal answer and consulted the best constitutional lawyer I could find. He is Queen’s Counsel Lord David Pannick.

Tan said he had given Pannick all the relevant documents including the Commission Report, White Paper, Hansard parliamentary reports from 7 Nov 2016 to 6 February 2017, and Singapore’s Constitution.

“I asked him one question: whether the AG correctly advised the Government to specify President Wee’s term as the first to be counted on the basis that he was the first President to exercise elected powers.

“Lord Pannick has advised that he disagrees with the AG’s advice, and that section 22 Presidential Elections (Amendment) Act 6 of 2017 as it stands is unconstitutional. After receiving Lord Pannick’s reply, I felt I could not keep his legal opinion to myself. It would be in public interest to have the Court decide which legal view is correct – Lord Pannick or the AG.”

A Supreme Court spokesman said, “The High Court has accepted the filing of an originating summons and supporting affidavit and documents by Dr Tan Cheng Bock on matters relating to Section 22 of the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Act 2017.”

The upcoming presidential election is reserved for Malay candidates and will be held in September, the government had announced.

Tan said at the conference that the election should be an open one. “The AGC should have counted the five most recent presidential terms produced by open elections. This starts with President Ong Teng Cheong,” he said.

His comments came after a review of the EP by the Constitutional Commission, which proposed a series of changes to the institution.

Under the “hiatus-triggered mechanism” for reserved elections, the presidential election should be reserved for candidates from a racial group if it is not represented for five terms, or 30 years, to ensure minority representation from time to time.

The AGC had advised that Wee was the first president to exercise the powers of an elected president. Wee was appointed president in 1985, and during his second term, the Constitution was amended in 1991 to allow for direct presidential elections. Ong won the first ever presidential election and assumed office in 1993.

Tan said that he engaged Singapore law firm Tan, Rajah & Cheah last month to make the necessary application, and to produce in his affidavit Lord Pannick’s written opinion before the Court.

“I believe this question can be answered without confrontation or hostility. Both the Government and I have the nation’s best interest at heart. It is in nobody’s interest to have a Reserved Election that is unconstitutional,” Tan said.