Two weeks ago (13 Oct), Straits Times Opinion Editor Chua Mui Hoong wrote an opinion piece on ST warning 4G leaders from the People’s Action Party (PAP) not to go overboard and become perceived as the domineering party, ready and willing to thumb down critics (‘PAP and the politics of dominance‘).
“In fighting to retain its dominant position in the Singapore political and intellectual landscape, the PAP Government has to tread carefully that it does not go overboard and become perceived not as the dominant force leading the country, but as the domineering party ready and willing to thumb down its critics,” she warned PAP.
Ms Chua is probably afraid that if the PAP 4G leaders continue to “thumb down” its critics in the enlightened era of social media and Internet, the dominant PAP might just lose its dominance in Parliament one day.
In her write-up, Ms Chua also mentioned that the PAP government, through the Presidential Elections Committee, has influence over the selection of presidential candidates. She wrote, “The presidency is directly elected, but the Government has influence over the selection of candidates via the Presidential Elections Committee.”
Ms Chua’s statement was later rebutted by Senior Assistant Director Tay Chai Luan from the Elections Department on ST Forum (‘Forum: Elections committee does not select candidates for president‘, 19 Oct). The Elections Department comes under the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr Tay said that Ms Chua’s statement is incorrect and gives the wrong impression of how the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) functions.
“First, the PEC does not select candidates. Its mandate is to determine whether a person is qualified to be elected as president by applying the criteria set out in the Constitution. It has no discretion to prevent any qualified person from standing as a candidate,” He replied.
“Second, the Government cannot influence the decisions of the PEC. The PEC acts solely based on the criteria laid out in the Constitution.”
Mr Tay went on to describe the PEC as an “independent body” comprises the chairman of the Public Service Commission, who chairs the PEC; the chairman of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority; and four other members appointed by the chairman of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers, the Chief Justice and the Prime Minister, respectively.
During the last Presidential Election in 2017, the PEC members were:
- Mr Eddie Teo, Public Service Commission chairman
- Ms Lim Soo Hoon, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority chairman
- Professor Chan Heng Chee, a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights
- Mr Po’ad Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar, a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers
- Justice Tay Yong Kwang, a Judge of Appeal
- Mr Peter Seah, DBS Bank chairman (appointed by the Prime Minister)
PAP changes constitution to “influence” the qualification of presidential candidates
Mr Tay is, of course, technically correct to say that PEC does not “select” candidates but to “determine” if a candidate is qualified to run for President by “applying the criteria set out in the Constitution”.
However, Mr Tay forgot to mention that it was the PAP, through its dominance in Parliament, that changed the selection criteria in the Constitution so as to filter out potential rival candidates whom it did not want to become President.
Mr Tan Cheng Bock is a good example. During the 2011 PE, he nearly beat Tony Tan, the candidate endorsed by PAP to become President. He lost and Tony Tan became the President. It was speculated that if Cheng Bok was to run in the 2017 PE, he would have a very good chance to become the next President, thus posing a problem for the PAP government.
The Constitution was changed and passed through the PAP-dominated Parliament in 2017. Among the changes in the Constitution, private-sector candidates must helm a company with at least S$500 million in shareholders’ equity, up from S$100 million in paid-up capital.
Eligible candidates must also have held “the most senior executive position in the company”, and the entire period of the applicant’s qualifying tenure should fall within the period of 15 years immediately preceding Nomination Day for the Presidential Election in question.
Dr Tan was the non-executive independent chairman of investment holdings company Chuan Hup Holdings for 20 years, before he retired in 2011. He did not have executive powers during his tenure and the company does not have S$500 million in shareholders’ equity, thereby, automatically disqualifying him from running in 2017 PE.
Furthermore, the Constitution was also changed to mandate that the Presidential Election be reserved for candidates from a particular racial group when no one from the group has held the office for five consecutive terms. This change paved the way for former PAP MP and Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob to become the only candidate deemed qualified by PEC during the 2017 PE. She won through a walkover as PEC disqualified the rest.
Mr Mohamed Salleh Marican, chairman and CEO of 2nd Chance Properties and Mr Farid Khan Kaim Khan, chairman of Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific, could not qualify because the shareholders’ equity of their company was less than S$500 million. The PAP-endorsed Halimah qualified through fulfilling a key criterion for candidates from the public sector.
Hence, Mr Tay’s reply did not give the full picture to the public with regard to what transpired in the 2017 Presidential Election.