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    Sep 19, 2016

    Revamp not aimed at individuals: Shanmugam

    CHANGES to the elected presidency are aimed at improving the system for Singapore's long-term future, not at barring certain individuals from standing, Law Minister K Shanmugam said yesterday.

    "The starting point in looking at this is the system. We are doing this for the future, for the benefit of Singaporeans, our children and our grandchildren," he said at a dialogue with 1,300 grassroots leaders and residents at ITE College Central. "You don't look at individuals, and then work backwards," he added.

    The recommended changes, that the Government broadly accepted in a White Paper last Thursday, were also proposed by a constitutional commission which felt the eligibility criteria should be raised, as did many of the participants yesterday, the minister noted.

    Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Home Affairs, was replying to a question on whether the changes might appear aimed at denying candidates like Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who ran in the 2011 presidential election, a chance to contest the next election that is due by August 2017.

    On Saturday, Dr Tan wrote on Facebook that Mr Shanmugam had said at an earlier dialogue last Thursday that he could not qualify under the changes. Said Dr Tan: "Is there some truth after all that the changes in the rules was to make sure I would not be eligible? It would be a sad day for Singaporeans if a constitutional change was made because of an individual."

    Responding to the question yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said Singaporeans should "start with a set of logical questions on the system, and then apply it fairly".

    The questions are:

    Does Singapore need a president with specific powers to say no to the Government?

    If so, does this person need to be elected and cannot be

    appointed by the Government?

    Must there be some criteria beyond being a Singaporean aged

    45 and above, so he can say yes

    or no to spending a large sum

    from the reserves?

    And if so, should this criteria be reviewed regularly?

    Mr Shanmugam asked for a show of hands to each of these questions, and a majority of the participants raised their hands.

    The Government was updating the system for the "best possible chance" of having the right person for the job, not making exceptions to ensure a particular individual would qualify or not qualify, he said.