Road to the Istana

A Timeline of Events

by Teo Yu Siang

This timeline documents the important milestones relating to the 2017 Presidential Election. It attempts to piece together the various strands of narratives pulling and weaving together to form a complex, problematic, and interesting journey towards the next occupant of the Istana. All milestones are fact-checked.

Milestones are divided into five broad categories:

2016

27 Jan 2016

Changing the law

PM Lee called for a review of EP system by the Constitutional Commission. The review is to look into ensuring minority representation in the presidency and bring the eligibility criteria up to date.

11 Mar 2016

Presidential candidates

Tan Cheng Bock announced his intention to run in the 2017 Presidential Election. The former presidential candidate had lost to Tony Tan in the 2011 election by a 0.35% margin.

21 Aug 2016

Changing the law

PM Lee, in his National Day Rally speech, mentioned that having a special provision to ensure minority representation in the EP is a delicate problem that needs to be solved.

“This problem is not easy to solve. Meritocracy and equal treatment are fundamental ideals of our society. […] Some people fear that if we make an explicit arrangement to ensure a minority President from time to time, it will compromise the principle of meritocracy. […] This makes it a delicate problem. Legally it is hard to draft and politically sensitive to explain. Psychologically it takes time to accept. But it is a real problem, and we have to solve it.”

7 Sep 2016

Changing the law

The Constitutional Commission released its 183-page report.

The key changes proposed were:

  • An alternative system of a President appointed by Parliament
  • Quintupling private sector eligibility criterion from $100m in paid-up capital to $500m in shareholder’s equity
  • Doubling the required tenure to 6 years for potential candidate’s role in their public or private sector position, up from 3 years
  • A hiatus-triggered system: reserved election for a race will be called if that race has not been represented for 5 consecutive terms

15 Sep 2016

Changing the law

Government released a White Paper on Elected Presidency in response to the Constitutional Commission’s report.

The 49-page paper accepted some changes proposed by the commission, and rejected or modified others:

  • Rejected Parliament-appointed Presidency
  • Accepted increasing private sector criterion from $100m paid-up capital to $500m shareholder’s equity
  • Rejected doubling the required tenure of potential candidates from 3 years to 6 years
  • Accepted implementing a hiatus-triggered system

10 Oct 2016

Changing the law

The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill was tabled in Parliament by DPM Teo Chee Hean to implement changes to the Elected Presidency. It would be debated in November.

7–8 Nov 2016

Changing the law

Parliament debated the proposed changes to Elected Presidency.

PM Lee said the Government accepted Attorney-General V K Rajah’s advice to start counting the Elected Presidency from Wee Kim Wee, who was the first President who exercised powers of the Elected President. This is as opposed to Ong Teng Cheong, who was the first popularly elected President of the country. Mr Ong served as President one term after Mr Wee.

This means the 2017 Presidential Election will be a reserved election for Malay candidates, since it would have been 5 consecutive terms (counting from Mr Wee) without a Malay President. Had the Government counted Mr Ong as the first elected president, 2017’s election would be an open one.

9 Nov 2016

Changing the law

Changes to the Elected Presidency were passed in Parliament. All 77 PAP MPs present voted “Yes”. All 6 WP MPs voted “No”.

2017

6 Feb 2017

Parliamentary challenge

WP MP Sylvia Lim questioned the timing of the reserved election. Minister in PM’s Office Chan Chun Sing responded that if Ms Lim thinks that the Attorney-General did not give the government appropriate advice when recommending Wee Kim Wee as the first elected president, she should “challenge this in the courts”.

GRC by-election

WP MP Pritam Singh asked what would happen to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC if Halimah Yacob hypothetically quits to run for presidency. He notes that the GRC by law requires a minority MP as one of its representatives in Parliament.

Mr Chan said that a by-election would not be called in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, citing ample minority representation in Parliament.

During the parliamentary session, Mr Chan had mistakenly referred to Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament, as “Madam President”—twice. PAP MPs found it funny.

8 May 2017

Constitutional challenge

Tan Cheng Bock applied to High Court to seek clarification on whether changes to the Constitution to count Wee Kim Wee as first elected president were unconstitutional.

31 May 2017

Presidential candidates

Mohamed Salleh Marican, CEO of Second Chance Properties, announced his bid to run in the presidential election. Mr Salleh is of mixed heritage with an Indian father, although he considers himself to be part of the Malay community. Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament who was tipped to run in the election (and who would later announce her bid to run), also has mixed heritage.

Mr Salleh’s company had shareholder’s equity of around $250m, which fell short of the eligibility criterion of $500m. This meant he was not automatically qualified to run in the election.

1 Jun 2017

Applications for Presidential Election officially opened. Since the election is reserved for the Malay community, prospective candidates have to apply to the Community Committee for a Malay community certificate.

7 Jul 2017

Constitutional challenge

High Court dismissed Tan Cheng Bock’s constitutional challenge on the changes to the Elected Presidency. Mr Tan said he will consider whether to appeal the High Court’s ruling.

11 Jul 2017

Presidential candidates

Farid Khan Kaim Khan, chairman of Bourbon Offshore Asia, announced his bid for candidacy. Mr Farid’s IC identifies him as “Pakistani” but he considers himself part of the Malay community. His company’s shareholder’s equity falls under $500m, so he did not automatically qualify as a presidential candidate.

12 Jul 2017

Constitutional challenge

Tan Cheng Bock filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal on whether changes to the Elected Presidency were unconstitutional.

7 Aug 2017

Presidential candidates

Halimah Yacob resigned as Speaker of Parliament and left the PAP to stand in the presidential election. She had served as Speaker for 4 years which puts her on path to automatically qualify as a presidential candidate. (The Government had in 2016 rejected the Constitutional Commission’s recommendation to increase the required tenure in public and private positions to 6 years.)

Mdm Halimah is considered of Malay race, despite being born of mixed race, with an Indian father and Malay mother.

8 Aug 2017

GRC by-election

Zaqy Mohamad was appointed adviser to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Grassroots Organisation following Halimah Yacob’s resignation. Mr Zaqy is adviser to Chua Chu Kang GRC Grassroots Organisation, and will thus serve two grassroots organisations concurrently.

11 Aug 2017

GRC by-election

SDP Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan wrote to PM Lee to confirm if no by-election will be called for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. This is after Chan Chun Sing declared in Parliament in February that no by-election is necessary.

“As Prime Minister, we wish to hear from you if Mr Chan’s statement is indeed your own position. Please let me have your reply on this matter by the close of the business day on 16 August 2017, Wednesday, failing which we will take it that you will not be calling for a by-election in the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. In that event, we shall proceed to take the necessary steps to rectify the situation.”

23 Aug 2017

Constitutional challenge

Court of Appeal dismissed Tan Cheng Bock’s constitutional challenge over the reserved presidential election.

The panel clarified that Parliament is lawfully allowed to specify “any of the past five terms of office of the President that immediately precede the 2017 election as the first term”.

Presidential candidates

Mohamed Salleh Marican submitted his application forms to run in the presidential election. Since he does not automatically qualify as a candidate, he would have to wait till one day before Nomination Day to know if he is ultimately eligible to contest in the election.

24 Aug 2017

Presidential candidates

Farid Khan submitted his application forms to run in the presidential election. He does not automatically qualify to run according to the eligibility criteria updated last year, and therefore would have to wait till one day before Nomination Day to find out if he is successful in applying to run in the election.

28 Aug 2017

Presidential candidates

PM Lee issued Writ of Election.

Nomination Day is 13 September, by which it will be revealed if any potential candidate—other than Halimah Yacob, who automatically qualified—qualifies to run for presidency.

As long as either Farid Khan or Mohamed Salleh qualifies to run for presidency, Polling Day will be 23 September.

Parliamentary challenge

WP MP Sylvia Lim filed an adjournment motion to speak on the reserved election, in particular, when the Government should start counting the presidential terms needed to trigger the reserved election.

This came against the backdrop of the Court of Appeal’s ruling on 23 August, in which it affirmed Parliament’s power to decide the first term of the elected presidency.

If approved, Ms Lim will speak in Parliament on 11 September 2017.

29 Aug 2017

Parliamentary challenge

PAP MPs filed two other adjournment motions to Parliament. Murali Pillai filed “Community Sentencing and Other Rehabilitative Options” and Vikram Nair filed “The Future of National Service”.

As a result, a ballot will be conducted on 5 September 2017. Only one of the three adjourment motions will be debated on 11 September 2017 when Parliament sits.

30 Aug 2017

Presidential candidates

Halimah Yacob submitted her application forms to contest in the presidential election. She is the only prospective candidate to automatically qualify, having served as Speaker of Parliament for 4 years.

4 Sep 2017

Presidential candidates

Application for the Presidential Election officially closed. The Elections Department issued a short press release, saying that in total 5 people had applied for the Certificate of Eligibility. Of these, three applied for a Malay Community Certificate (presumably Mdm Halimah, Mr Farid, and Mr Salleh); one applied for the Chinese Community Certificate; the last applicant declared that he does not belong to the Chinese, Malay, Indian, or other minority communities.

The Elections Department added that it will only consider applicants who consider themselves part of the Malay community.

5 Sep 2017

Parliamentary challenge

Parliament conducted a ballot of the three adjournment motions filed. PAP MP Murali Pillai’s motion was picked. He will speak on “Community Sentencing and Other Rehabilitative Options”.

This meant WP MP Sylvia Lim cannot speak on her adjournment motion on whether the Elected Presidency should be counted from Ong Teng Cheong.

8 Sep 2017

Presidential candidates

Law Minister K Shanmugam rejected the idea that a walkover in this election meant the winning candidate has no mandate of the people. He pointed out that Lee Kuan Yew had experienced many walkover elections, but no one would question Mr Lee’s legitimacy. Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Forum on the Reserved Presidential Election.

Of course, in order to form Government in the first place, Mr Lee had contested in the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election. In that election, PAP (then an opposition party) won 43 out of 51 seats and captured 53.4% of votes in a 13-way contest. Bolstered by a strong mandate, Mr Lee became first Prime Minister of Singapore.

11 Sep 2017

Parliamentary challenge

Parliament will sit at 1.30pm. However, WP MP Sylvia Lim’s adjournment motion was not picked in the ballot conducted on 5 September 2017. She is thus unable to speak on the Elected Presidency and the Government’s choice of Wee Kim Wee as the first term of the EP.

Presidential candidates

Elections Department announced that only Mdm Halimah was issued the Certificate of Eligibility to run as President. This means Mr Farid and Mr Salleh are both disqualified from running; Mdm Halimah wins the race with a walkover.

13 Sep 2017

Presidential candidates

Nomination Day. Mdm Halimah was declared President-elect.

“This shows that multi-culturalism is not just a slogan… it really works in our society. Everyone has the chance to reach the highest office of land.”

GRC by-election

Singapore Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the Government in High Court to declare that a by-election should be called in Marsiling Yew-Tee GRC.

S49(1) of the Constitution states:
“Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.”

14 Sep 2017

Presidential candidates

Swearing-in ceremony. Halimah Yacob is 8th President of Singapore. She is the first female President, not by popular vote but by a walkover.

Since the start of the Elected Presidency system (counting from Wee Kim Wee’s second term, as the Government had), four out of six terms of the Presidency were occupied by a President elected without a single vote cast.

19 Sep 2017

Parliamentary challenge

WP MP Sylvia Lim re-filed her adjournment motion to speak on when the Government should start counting the presidential terms needed to trigger the reserved election. Parliament sits on 2 Oct 2017.

If other MPs file additional adjournment motions, a ballot will be held once more to decide whose adjournment motion will be approved.

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