TL;DR – Election is over, President has sworn in. Can we move on please?
It’s been 21 days since our new President has taken office, but clearly, some people are still not over the issue of the reserved elections.
Last week, new Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin published a Facebook post explaining the balloting process for a motion to be tabled in Parliament.
Some background – basically, there were rumours about how the PAP MPs were “filibustering” to block opposition MPs from tabling a motion on reserved election.
Mr Tan took to Facebook to clarify this balloting process (which most apathetic Singaporeans are clueless about).
Here’s a graphic to illustrate this rather confusing balloting process.
Speaker Tan explained that either Vikram’s or Sylvia’s motion would be chosen if there were 2 days of Parliament sitting (the 2nd day of sitting was on 3rd Oct).
In his latest Facebook post, he updated that Sylvia Lim was present for Monday’s draw and her motion has been picked for yesterday’s session.
Sylvia Lim’s speech
So Sylvia Lim was given 20 minutes to drive across her point(s) yesterday evening.
Her motion was on the Government’s decision to start the count of the first elected President from President Wee Kim Wee instead of President Ong Teng Cheong for the Reserved Presidential Election.
She insinuated that the Government has been making a policy decision all these while but had used the Attorney General Chamber’s (AGC) advice (Government’s lawyer) as a cover to avoid full parliamentary debate.
Previously debated in Parliament
Minister Chan Chun Sing, previously explained in Parliament that late President Wee was the first to exercise the powers of the Elected Presidency.
So even though President Wee was elected by Parliament (not by the electorate), the constitution was amended in 1991 to allow him exercise all the discretionary powers of an elected President.
Take a look at how the provision was carefully worded:
“The person holding the office of President immediately prior to 30th November 1991 shall continue to hold such office for the remainder of his term of office and shall exercise, perform and discharge all the functions, powers and duties conferred or imposed upon the office of President by this Constitution as amended by the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1991 (Act 5 of 1991) […], as if he had been elected to the office of President by the citizens of Singapore […]”
That was in 1991.
Last year, the constitution was amended to allow an election to be reserved for a certain racial community if no one from that community has been President for five consecutive terms.
It was also drafted in a way to enable Parliament to start counting from President Wee and the Court of Appeal has also ruled that it was a policy decision.
K Shanmugam’s response to Sylvia
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam responded to Ms Lim in Parliament yesterday and he only took 10 mins to do it.
In his feisty reply, he reiterated the point that the counting of first elected President was a policy decision and not a legal issue.
“The Court of Appeal judgment makes clear a number of things. First, the Constitutional text is clear that Parliament can choose from any of the five terms preceding the 2017 elections. Second, the PM’s speech in Parliament on the constitutional amendments made it clear that Parliament intended to give itself the discretion to specify the last term of President Wee as the first term to be counted for purposes of deciding whether an election is reserved. Members can read the part Ms Lim quoted from the Prime Minister.
I don’t see anything that is ambiguous. The point is this, and we’re not changing history here, Ms Lim’s a lawyer, she knows this, Dr Wee’s second term exercised the powers of an elected President. There is nothing ambiguous about that. That is a matter of clear law.”
So the Government was clear that they wanted to amend the constitution so that Singapore can have a minority President from time to time. In other words, we don’t have to wait another 46 years to have a minority President.
So make no doubts about it. The Government had this intention of amending the constitution to trigger a reserved election before they sought the AGC’s advice.
Legal advice is important because the Government needs to find out if their considerations for the reserved election had any legal impediments.
Anyway, there has been too much limelight on this issue.
Let’s move on and start focusing on real issues that affect Singaporeans’ lives. Like combating terrorism.