Singapore to amend Constitution so minority race president elected from time to time
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Singapore to amend Constitution so minority race president elected from time to time

CONSTITUTIONAL amendments will soon be tabled in Singapore to ensure the post of president is given to the island state’s ethnic minorities every now and then.

During his National Day Rally speech at the ITE College Central yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that his government has accepted in principle recommendations on the matter proposed by a high-level panel to review the Elected Presidency.

“Previously, when the president was elected by Parliament, we could ensure that all groups of Singaporeans could become president from time to time. So we had Encik Yusof Ishak, Prof Benjamin Sheares, Mr Devan Nair and Mr Wee Kim Wee,” he was quoted as saying in Straits Times.

The late Yusof was Singapore’s first and only Malay president. Since the Elected Presidency system was introduced in 1991, the country has not had a Malay president. It had an Indian president – S.R. Nathan – who served from 1999 to 2011.

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“But now that the president is elected in a national election, it is harder for a non-Chinese to get elected as president,” Lee pointed out in the report.

“If it happens naturally, like it did with (former) president S. R. Nathan (who was elected unopposed), that is good. But if it does not happen for a long time, minorities will feel disappointment, and rightly so.

“The issue can be politicised and manipulated to provoke ill-feelings in minority communities and divide us in future. We must make the changes now and take action while it is peaceful and the society is united,” he added.

According to another report on Straits Times, following the proposed amendments, those who want to run for presidency will also be bound by stricter requirements.

The daily also quoted Lee as saying that a report by the six-month-old Constitutional Commission is currently being deliberated by the government and will be released “soon”.

He added that the government will later publish a policy White Paper detailing the amendments before a Bill is tabled in Parliament.

For approval, however, the Bill must receive votes from two-thirds of the republic’s 89 elected MPs.

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According to an April report by Channel News Asia, the review panel that was set up in January was looking at three aspects of the Elected Presidency system: Reassessing the qualifying criteria for presidential candidates; Giving more weight to the Council of Presidential Advisers; and Safeguarding minority representation in the presidency.

The last aspect was reportedly the most contentious during deliberations with stakeholders.

Straits Times said during public hearings, some experts said minority representation was necessary while others expressed concern that this would be akin to affirmative action.

Singapore’s 5.5 million-strong population is Chinese dominated, with the race making up 74.2 per cent of the populace following by the Malays at 13.3 per cent and the Indians at 9.2 per cent, according to data from 2013.