Who is the President of Singapore?
With the Presidential Elections looming, media outlets are brimming with updates on potential candidates, the amendments to elections and what they mean for the new President. But how many of us really know who the President is, what their role is and how their presence impacts the country?


What is the President of Singapore?

The Constitution states that the President is the Head of State while the Prime Minister is the Head of Government. The President is the symbol of national unity and represents Singapore at the highest level in matters of international relations. The President presides over important national events such as the National Day Parade and the Opening of Parliament.


What is an Elected President?

Elected Presidency was legislated in 1991 in Singapore, with the powers of an elected president first being exercised by President Wee Kim Wee. Previously, the President was indirectly elected by the Parliament and was largely ceremonial. The Elected President scheme gave the President custodial roles and transformed the office into one directly elected by the people of Singapore. The candidate with the highest number of votes becomes the President of Singapore.


What are the credentials required to be a President?

In order to be the President, one must meet the following criteria:
• Singaporean Citizen not below 45 years of age
• Resident of Singapore at the time of nomination and ten years prior to the election date
• Name must appear in the current register of electors
• Cannot be subject to any disqualifications such as being an undischarged bankrupt, holding an office of profit or having a criminal record
• Must satisfy the Presidential Elections Committee of being a person of integrity, good character and reputation
• Cannot be a member of any political party on the date of nomination
• Has held office for a period of not less than 3 years as:
• Minister or top-ranking official in civil service
• Chairman or CEO of a statutory board
• Chairman or board of directors or CEO of a company with paid-up capital of at least 100 million dollars


How long does the President serve?

The President serves for a fixed term of 6 years. There are no term limits to the presidency.


What is the function of the President of Singapore?

Under the Constitution, the President must act on the advice of the Cabinet except in specific instances. Aside from ceremonial functions, the President also has certain custodial functions which empowers him to veto certain measures despite the Cabinet’s advice. These give the President the power to safeguard the past reserves of the country and integrity of the public service. These powers are as follows:
• The President may veto measures taken by the Parliament or Government if he considers that they will draw on the past reserves.
• He can veto appointments and removals to key public service positions such as Chief Justice, Judges of the Supreme Court, Chiefs of Defence Force, Army, Navy, Air Force, the Attorney-General, the Public Service Commission and Legal Service Commission.
• He can authorize an investigation by the Director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau if the Prime Minister refuses to give authorization. The President’s concurrence is also required in the detention of a person under the Internal Security Act.
• He can cancel or vary a restraining order made under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act if the Cabinet’s advice is contrary to that of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.
However, the President must consult the Council of Presidential Advisers in these matters. Parliament can overrule the President if he exercises a veto contrary to the recommendations of the Council.


What are the President’s powers of clemency?

The President’s authority to grant pardons, reprieves, respites and remissions is stated under Article 22P of the Singapore Constitution. However, even though clemency is exercised by the President, the Cabinet advises him in this function as well.


What is the Prime Minister’s role then?

The President does not govern the country. The Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government, along with the other members of the Cabinet, governs the country by exercising the executive powers of the Government and are accountable to the Parliament.


What are the Recent amendments to the Presidential Elections Act?

A Bill to amend the Presidential Elections Act was tabled in Parliament in January. The following amendments were made to the Elections:
• The Presidential Elections (PE) have always taken place in August, at the end of the six-year term. This has been amended to take place in September so that campaigning does not clash with National Day celebrations.
• The deadline for applying for a certificate of eligibility will be extended to five days after the Writ of Election has been issued, a change from three days. There will also be a minimum of 10 days between the issue of the Writ and Nomination Day to give the PE Committee more time to evaluate the applications.
• The setting up of a Community Committee to assess which racial group candidates belong to for all presidential elections. All prospective candidates must declare which community they consider themselves a part of and a certificate will be issued if the community is satisfied.


What is a reserved presidential election?

Usually, elections are open to candidates from all races. However, in order to ensure multi-racial representation in the Presidency, the amendment to the Presidential election act has made a provision for an election to be reserved if a person belonging to a community (Chinese, Malay, Indian and other minority communities) has not been represented for 5 most recent terms of office. Open elections are to be held if no candidate is successfully nominated at a reserved election. The coming PE is the first to be reserved for candidates from the Malay community.