Commentary: For Singapore’s sake, we need a contest in the presidential election

1 week ago 50

SINGAPORE: The search for Singapore's next president has begun.

The media have started speculating who might throw his or her hat into the ring. As expected, the names being mentioned are the usual suspects of eligible ex-ministers including Lim Boon Heng, Khaw Boon Wan and George Yeo, and the usual list of popular personalities such as Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh (even though he says he does not qualify).

There are not many because the eligibility criteria are so stringent, the vast majority of Singaporeans do not qualify at all.

You can be one of the most distinguished diplomats Singapore has ever produced like Prof Koh yet not make the first cut.

This is because there are only two groups of eligible people - ex-senior civil servants or political office holders and corporate leaders who have run businesses with shareholders’ equity of at least S$500 million (US$370 million).

Ambassadors are not deemed good enough, hence Prof Koh’s ineligibility.

All four previously elected presidents belonged to the first group, and all bar one were senior members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), as ex-ministers, and in the case of the current President Halimah Yacob, as a former Speaker of Parliament.  

The exception was Mr S R Nathan who was a civil servant.

Former president SR Nathan (centre right) and President Tony Tan (centre left) at Mr Nathan's 90th birthday celebrations on Jul 3, 2014.

The Constitution states that a presidential candidate cannot be a member of a political party but is otherwise silent on his past political associations.

You can be a PAP member today, resign tomorrow, proclaim yourself non-partisan and ready to stand for the highest office of the land to act as a check against the government of the day from which you recently served.

The government has argued that these conditions are necessary to ens...

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