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    Sep 16, 2016

    White Paper spells out the changes

    KEY changes to the elected presidency proposed by a constitutional commission have been largely accepted by the Government, but with some modifications which were outlined in a White Paper yesterday.

    The qualifying criteria for private-sector candidates will be updated to the top executive of a company with $500 million in shareholders' equity, to reflect the growth of the economy and the reserves.

    Under current rules, a person can qualify as chairman or chief executive of a company with at least $100 million in paid-up capital.

    But the Government rejected the commission's proposal that candidates, whether from top public or private sector posts, should have served for six years, up from three.

    It also modified the recommendation that a candidate's qualifying tenure fall entirely within 15 years before the election, saying it is okay if it falls at least partly within 20 years before the poll.

    The White Paper - a policy document by the Government to explain or discuss matters - said a "cautious approach" was preferred, given other changes to the eligibility criteria.

    Echoing this view in a media interview last night, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said: "We think that might narrow down the field too much, might be too drastic."

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post last night that the Government will table a Bill to amend the Constitution in Parliament next month.

    There will be a debate at the sitting after that, in November.

    Most of the changes should be in place before the next presidential election, which must be called by August 2017.

    In another key change, the Government will reserve elections for candidates from a particular race, if no one from that racial group has been elected president after five consecutive terms.

    This approach "strikes an appropriate balance" between the long-term goal of multiracialism, and ensuring a president from minority races, the Government said.

    The White Paper also stated that a minority candidate in a reserved election will still have to meet the eligibility criteria and be elected.

    Meanwhile, the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) will have eight members in future, up from six - and the president will have to consult it on all fiscal matters on the use of past reserves and all key public service appointments.

    But a proposal to adjust the threshold needed for Parliament to override a veto based on how much support the president has from the CPA was rejected by the Government.

    It said the move may unintentionally emphasise or even politicise how members of the council voted.

    It will stick to the present arrangement, where Parliament can override a veto with a two-thirds majority if a simple majority of the CPA disagrees with the president.