Tan Cheng Bock: Presidential Election 2017 should be an 'open election'

Nicholas Yong
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 questioned the changes to the Elected Presidency, saying that this year’s Presidential Election should be an open one.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) or the government has to explain how it counted the terms of the presidents who had exercised elected powers, the 76-year-old former Ayer Rajah MP on Friday (31 March) said at a press conference.

“The AGC should have counted the five most recent presidential terms produced by open elections. This starts with President Ong Teng Cheong,” Tan said.

If need be, the government can refer AGC’s opinion to the court for an independent judicial verification, he added.

“If the government double checks the AGC’s advice with the court, then Parliament and the people of Singapore can be satisfied beyond doubt that the constitutional changes they are making stand on strong legal foundation.

“But if the government simply accepts AGC’s advice, without explaining why they accepted the accuracy of the opinion, I am concerned our elected presidency will always be tainted with the suspicion that the reserved elections of 2017 was introduced to prevent my candidacy.”

Last November, Tan pledged to remain involved in public life despite being disqualified from the 2017 Presidential Election. Earlier that month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament that the next Presidential Election will be reserved for Malay candidates. The next day, the House passed a Bill to amend the Constitution to enshrine the move.

The move came following a review of the Elected Presidency by the Constitutional Commission, which proposed a series of changes to the institution.

The government had received advice from the AGC on how to apply the “hiatus-triggered mechanism” for reserved elections.

Under this mechanism, 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 Kim 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.

Last month, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing told Parliament that the election will be held in September.

Tan, who lost the 2011 Presidential Election by just 7,382 votes to Tony Tan, declared his intention to run for office again in March last year. He told Yahoo Singapore in an interview in June that he aimed to be a unifying figure for the country.

At the conference, Tan said he hopes to continue serving the people of Singapore, outlining his extensive experience in many fields.

“I will bring with me, all my experiences, my political experiences, my diplomatic experiences, and my experiences on the ground. I’ve been in every field. Town councils, CDCs. In fact, I’m so familiar with Singapore, the workings of Singapore, that I’m prepared to assume that role to look after your reserves, to make sure that the appointments of people in the government are in the right order.

“That will require people with independence, people with integrity, transparency, and that is what I bring with me, if I ever go into the presidency. If I can’t, I suppose, well there are other ways for me to contribute to this country.”

WATCH a portion of Tan Cheng Bock’s press conference: