With the first ever reserved presidential election coming up later this year, former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) have been locked into a legal battle in court over the constitutionality of the recent changes to the Elected Presidency.

Dr Tan’s challenge to the reserved presidential election was mounted in May. The case was heard last week by a court behind closed doors, although news reports have obtained the court documents used in that hearing. Dr Tan was represented by Senior Counsel Chelva Retnam Rajah, while the Attorney General’s Chambers was represented by Deputy Attorney General Hri Kumar Nair.

Dr Tan’s main argument against the upcoming reserved presidency is his objection to using President Wee Kim Wee’s 2 terms (from 1985 – 1993) as a basis for determining how long Singapore has gone without a Malay president.

Dr Tan argued the reserved election’s definition of “five most recent terms” should refer to Presidents who were elected by the citizens to serve for a term of six years.

“President Wee Kim Wee was not elected to office by the citizens of Singapore and his term of office (under the constitutional provisions then in force i.e old Article 17) was four years,” his submission stated.

Responding to his charges, the AGC argued that Dr Tan’s case was irretrievably flawed because Dr Tan’s submissions had read words into Articles 19B and 164 (1) which “were not there” and ignores parliament’s intentions for the provisions.

The AGC said that Parliament was acting constitutionally because Article 164 (1) did not impose any specific requirement for which Presidents or category of Presidents parliament must choose from to trigger the reserved election. In questioning parliament’s prerogatives to decide on the reserved election, the AGC accused Dr Tan’s challenge of undermining “the longstanding imperative for multiracial representation in the office of the President, which the reserved election framework seeks to safeguard”.

It added that the decision to specify President Wee’s term addressed the concern of a lack of a President from the Malay community for over 46 years.

“The plaintiff may very well have personal reasons for disagreeing with these policy considerations, but they have nothing to do with the constitutionality of specifying President Wee, and are irrelevant to the legal question before the Court.”

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