November 10, 2016 – Singapore’s parliament has approved changes to the country’s elected presidency system as part of efforts to address the need for minority representation and adequate safeguards in the decision-making process.
The changes, approved after three days of debate, will allow an election reserved for a particular racial minority group if the previous five terms have not seen a president elected from that minority.
Reports today said that due to the amendments, the next president, to be elected by the end of 2017, would likely be ethnic Malay as the election will be reserved for candidates from that ethnicity.
The changes were approved by all 77 lawmakers from the ruling People’s Action Party and voted down by all six elected MPs from the opposition Workers’ Party.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that although the proposals “were not perfect”, they sought to deal with present realities and enable multiracial representation in the presidency.
“We are trying to improve our institutions and strengthen them for the Singapore of the future,” he was quoted as saying. “It is part of the overall effort to build stabilizers in the system.”
The changes, which will require constitutional amendments and could come into force as soon as the 2017 presidential election, have been subjected to plenty of public discussion.
Some have speculated that the move was designed to block Tan Cheng Bock, who lost the 2011 presidential election by 0.35 percent of the vote, from running in the next election and potentially beating the ruling party’s preferred candidate.
While the prime minister of Singapore is the head of government, the president is considered the head of state.
According to the constitution, the president holds certain executive functions, such as the ability to veto attempts of the government to draw down on past reserves that it did not accumulate.
The president can also approve changes to key positions within the civil service, such as the chief justice, attorney general, or commissioner of police.