'Unbundling' of symbolic and custodial roles mooted
TO RESOLVE the tension between the symbolic and custodial roles of the president, a panel tasked with reviewing the elected presidency has suggested that the Government consider "unbundling" those functions at some point.
In its report published yesterday, the Constitutional Commission also floated the idea of doing away with elections and having Parliament appoint a head of state who will focus on the historic role of being a symbolic, unifying figure for the nation.
The president's custodial role of safeguarding the reserves and the integrity of the public service could be assumed by a group of appointed experts instead.
As the person holding the second key to past reserves, the president could potentially have to confront the Government.
"While the prospect for confrontation necessitates that the president hold the legitimacy and authority that comes from having an elected mandate, it seems out of place for persons seeking a non-partisan unifying office to have to go through a national election, which will likely be politicised and divisive," the commission said.
So it has suggested returning to the pre-1991 system of having an appointed president.
A specialist body could then be appointed to take over the president's functional role.
In laying out its proposals on decoupling the roles, the commission said its views provide context for debate on the issue, "if the Government deems it fit and profitable".
In a letter to commission chair Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated the need for an elected president.
He said: "As the Government has pointed out even when the scheme was first conceived, it would be difficult for a president to exercise custodial powers over the reserves and public service appointments, and veto proposals by the Government, without an electoral mandate."