Who is the first elected President of Singapore?

By: Chua Chin Leng

WP raised this question in Parliament and if I am not mistaken the question was turned into an attack on Hsien Loong’s integrity for using Wee Kim Wee as the first elected President to compute when a minority president should take his place in the Istana. Correct me if I am wrong.

I think the formula used to calculate the time qualification for a minority president is quite interesting for discussion. I must say the govt is right and I am not questioning anyone’s integrity, not Hsien Loong’s for sure.

Let me just put down some facts here, copied from the Istana website and wikipedia.

Mr C V Devan Nair was elected President of the Republic of Singapore by Parliament on 23 October 1981.

Dr Wee Kim Wee was elected the President of the Republic of Singapore by Parliament on 30 August 1985.

Mr Ong Teng Cheong became the fifth President of the Republic of Singapore and the first President to be popularly elected by the people on 1 September 1993.

Below paragraphs are from wikipedia.

The Singaporean presidential election of 1993was the first presidential election held in Singapore. Polling day was 28 August 1993. Former Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong became Singapore’s first directly elected President.

In January 1991, the Constitution of Singapore[1]was amended to provide for the popular election of the President. The creation of the elected presidency was a major constitutional and political change in Singapore’s history as, under the revision, the President is empowered to veto the use of government reserves and appointments to key civil service appointments. He or she can also examine the administration’s enforcement of the Internal Security Act[2] and Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act,[3] and look into investigations of corruption.

By virtue of transitional provisions in the Singapore Constitution,[4] Ong’s predecessor Wee Kim Wee exercised, performed and discharged all the functions, powers and duties of an elected president as if he had been elected to the office of President by the citizens of Singapore, until Ong took office.

The govt is taking the position that Wee Kim Wee is the first elected president, ah, yes and no if you understand the above facts. Wee Kim Wee exercised, performed and discharged the duties of an elected president once the Act was passed though he was not an elected president elected by the people but elected by parliament in 1985.

This is a legal point only the court can make an authoritative interpretation. He did exercise and perform the duties of an elected president but not an elected president elected by the people, only as if he was elected by the people. This could be a point of contention even if he is legally and constitutionally accorded the status of being the first elected president.

The other point is that when did he exercise and perform the duties of an elected president? I think it should be sometime in 1991 or 1992 after the Act was passed in parliament. It must be as the constitution does not have a people’s elected president before this date. Before this date he was not an elected president elected by the people but elected by parliament.

The amendments for a minority president election have a qualification time of 30 years for a minority president election to be called. This 30 year time frame should start from when, 1985 when Wee Kim Wee became president or when he exercised and performed the duties of an elected president in 1991 or 1992?

Or should it start from the year the Elected President Act came into force in 1991?  If 1985 is the commencement date, then by 2015 a minority president election is due. If the commencement date is 1991/2, then the next minority president election should be due in 2021/2.  Correct or not, this is simple arithmetic.

So the big question is which year should be used to compute when the next minority president is due, 2015 or 2021? I think this merits some discussion and clarification. Would WP take this up to the court for a legal interpretation? If there is any doubt or ambiguity, the High Court should be the authority to make the clarification and interpretation. Seeking a court interpretation on this matter cannot be an attack or questioning anyone’s integrity, I think.

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