President of Singapore
|President of the|
Republic of Singapore
Elected by Parliament (1965–1991)|
Direct popular election (1991–present)
|Term length||Six years; renewable|
|Inaugural holder||Yusof Ishak|
|Formation||9 August 1965|
|This article is part of a series on the|
politics and government of
The President of the Republic of Singapore is Singapore's head of state. In a Westminster parliamentary system, as which Singapore governs itself, the prime minister is the head of the government while the president is largely ceremonial, broadly analogous to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom.
Before 1993, the President of Singapore was chosen by Parliament. Following constitutional amendments in 1991, the Presidency became a popularly-elected office with certain custodial powers, particularly over government expenditure of the nation's past financial reserves and key appointments to public offices.
In November 2016, further amendments provide for "reserved elections" for a particular racial group (Chinese, Malay and Indian/other minority) - if that community has not been represented for five presidential terms.
The first President elected by the majority of the people was Ong Teng Cheong, who served from 1 September 1993 to 31 August 1999. The current President of Singapore is Tony Tan Keng Yam. The President's official residence is the Istana.
The office of President was created in 1965 after Singapore became a republic upon its secession from the Federation of Malaysia that year. It replaced the office of Yang di-Pertuan Negara, which had been created when Singapore attained self-government in 1959. The last Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Yusof Ishak, became the first President. After his death he was replaced by Benjamin Sheares, who served until his death in 1981, when he was succeeded by Chengara Veetil Devan Nair. Owing to personal problems, Nair stepped down in 1985 and was replaced by Wee Kim Wee, who served as President until 1993.
In January 1991, the Constitution was amended to provide for the popular election of the President, a major constitutional and political change in Singapore's history. Under the revision, the President is empowered to veto the use of the country's past reserves and key civil service appointments. He or she can also examine the administration's enforcement of the Internal Security Act and Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, and authorise corruption investigations (see below).
The first popularly elected President was Ong Teng Cheong, a former cabinet minister. He served as President from 1 September 1993 to 31 August 1999. By virtue of transitional provisions in the Constitution of Singapore, although Ong's predecessor Wee Kim Wee was not elected as President, because he held the office of President immediately prior to 30 November 1991 he exercised, performed and discharged all the functions, powers and duties of an elected president as if he had been elected to the office of President by the citizens of Singapore until Ong Teng Cheong took office as President.
The sixth President was S. R. Nathan. He was not elected by the people in a vote, but became President by virtue of being the sole candidate deemed qualified by the Presidential Elections Committee. His first term of office was from 18 August 1999 to 31 August 2005. He was re-elected after a walkover on 17 August 2005 and stepped down in August 2011. Tony Tan won the 27 August 2011 presidential election by a narrow 0.34% margin. He was sworn in as the seventh President of Singapore on 1 September 2011.
Constitutional position and role
The President is the head of state of Singapore. The executive authority of the nation is vested in the President and exercisable by him or her or by the Cabinet or any minister authorised by the Cabinet. However, it is the Cabinet that has the general direction and control of the Government, and in most cases the President exercises powers in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a minister acting under the Cabinet's general authority. The President only exercises limited powers in his or her personal discretion to block attempts by the government of the day to draw down past reserves it did not accumulate, to approve changes to key appointments, and to exercise oversight over the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and decisions of the Executive under the Internal Security Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
As a component of the legislature together with Parliament, the President is also jointly vested with the legislative power of Singapore. The President's primary role in the exercise of legislative power to make laws is assenting to bills passed by Parliament. As he or she exercises this constitutional function in accordance with Cabinet's advice and not in his or her personal discretion except in certain circumstances, in general he or she may not refuse to assent to bills that Parliament has validly passed. The words of enactment in Singapore statutes are: "Be it enacted by the President with the advice and consent of the Parliament of Singapore, as follows:". The President usually opens each Parliamentary session with an address drafted by the Cabinet setting out the Government's agenda for the session, and may address Parliament and send messages to it.
The President has been called "Singapore's No. 1 diplomat". Ambassadors and high commissioners accredited to Singapore present their credentials to him, and he is called upon by visiting foreign leaders. In addition, he or she contributes to the nation's external relations by undertaking overseas trips on Cabinet's advice. Presidents have also used the office to champion charitable causes. Wee Kim Wee promoted sports and volunteerism; and Ong Teng Cheong culture and the arts, particularly music. In 2000, S.R. Nathan established the President's Challenge with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and its statutory board, the National Council of Social Service. As of 2011, the endeavour had raised more than S$100 million for charities supporting disabled and needy people.
The powers of the President of Singapore are divided into those which the President may exercise in his or her own discretion, and those he or she must exercise in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet of Singapore or of a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet. In addition, the President is required to consult the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) when performing some of his functions. In other cases, he or she may consult the CPA if he or she wishes to but is not bound to do so.
The Constitution confers on the President certain executive functions to block attempts by the government of the day to draw down past reserves that it did not accumulate. Thus, a guarantee may only be given or a loan raised by the Government if the President concurs, and his or her approval is also needed for budgets of specified statutory boards and Government companies that draw on their past reserves. The President also possesses personal discretion to withhold assent to any bill in Parliament providing directly or indirectly for the direct or indirect variation, changing or increase in powers of the Central Provident Fund Board to invest moneys belonging to it; and the borrowing of money, the giving of any guarantee or the raising of any loan by the Government if in the President's opinion the bill is likely to draw on reserves not accumulated by the Government during its current term of office. In addition, the President may withhold assent to any Supply Bill, Supplementary Supply Bill or Final Supply Bill for any financial year if in his or her opinion the estimates of revenue and expenditure, supplementary estimates or statement of excess are likely to lead to a drawing on past reserves.
The President is also empowered to approve changes to key civil service positions, such as the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General, the chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, the Chief of Defence Force and the Commissioner of Police. He or she also appoints as Prime Minister a Member of Parliament (MP) who, in his or her personal judgment, is likely to command the confidence of a majority of MPs. The President has certain powers of oversight over the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and decisions of the Executive under the Internal Security Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
The term of office of the first elected President, Ong Teng Cheong (1993–1999), was marked by differences between him and the Government concerning the extent of his discretionary fiscal powers. Discussions culminated in the Government issuing a non-binding white paper entitled The Principles for Determining and Safeguarding the Accumulated Reserves of the Government and the Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Government Companies (1999). In 2009, the Government requested approval from President S.R. Nathan to draw $4.9 billion from past financial reserves to meet current budget expenditure, the first time it had done so. The sum was used to fund the Government's Resilience Package consisting of two schemes aimed at preserving jobs and businesses during the financial downturn.
A person who wishes to run for the office of President has to fulfil stringent qualifications set out in the Constitution, which are as follows:
- He or she must be a citizen of Singapore.
- He or she must not be less than 45 years of age.
- His or her name must appear in a current register of electors.
- He or she must be resident in Singapore at the date of his or her nomination for election and must have been so resident for periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than ten years prior to that date.
- He or she must not be subject to any of the following disqualifications:
- (a) being and having been found or declared to be of unsound mind;
- (b) being an undischarged bankrupt;
- (c) holding an office of profit;
- (d) having been nominated for election to Parliament or the office of President or having acted as election agent to a person so nominated, failing to lodge any return of election expenses required by law within the time and in the manner so required;
- (e) having been convicted of an offence by a court of law in Singapore or Malaysia and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than one year or to a fine of not less than S$2,000 and having not received a free pardon, provided that where the conviction is by a court of law in Malaysia, the person shall not be disqualified unless the offence is also one which, had it been committed in Singapore, would have been punishable by a court of law in Singapore;
- (f) having voluntarily acquired the citizenship of, or exercised rights of citizenship in, a foreign country, or having made a declaration of allegiance to a foreign country;
- (g) being disqualified under any law relating to offences in connection with elections to Parliament or the office of President by reason of having been convicted of such an offence or having in proceedings relating to such an election been proved guilty of an act constituting such an offence.
- He or she must be a person of integrity, good character and reputation.
- He or she must not be a member of any political party on the date of his or her nomination for election.
- He or she must have for a period of not less than three years held office —
- as Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General or Permanent Secretary;
- as chairperson or chief executive officer (CEO) of the Central Provident Fund Board, the Housing and Development Board, the Jurong Town Corporation or the Monetary Authority of Singapore;
- as chairperson of the board of directors or CEO of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency; or
- in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organisation or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President.
The President holds office for a term of six years from the date on which he or she assumes office. The office falls vacant upon the expiry of the incumbent's term or if the President is for some reason unable to complete his or her term; for example, due to death, resignation, or removal from office for misconduct or mental or physical infirmity. If the office of President becomes vacant before the incumbent's term expires, a poll for an election must be held within six months. In other cases, an election can take place any time from three months before the expiry of the incumbent's term of office.
The procedure for elections is laid out in the Presidential Elections Act. The process begins when the Prime Minister issues a writ of election to the returning officer specifying the date and place of nomination day. Potential candidates must obtain certificates of eligibility from the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), the function of which is to ensure that such persons have the necessary qualifications to be nominated as a candidate for the election. In particular, the PEC must be satisfied that the potential candidates are persons of integrity, good character and reputation; and if they have not previously held certain key government offices or acted as chairman of the board of directors or CEO of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million, that they held a position of comparable seniority and responsibility in the public or private sector that has given them experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs. The PEC consists of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, who is also the Chairman of the PEC, the Chairman of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, and a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. At the 2011 presidential election, the members of the PEC were Eddie Teo (Chairman), Chan Lai Fung and Sat Pal Khattar.
In addition, candidates must obtain political donation certificates from the Registrar of Political Donations stating that they have complied with the Political Donations Act, and file their nomination papers with the returning officer on nomination day. A deposit must also be paid. If there is only one candidate nominated, he or she is declared to have been elected President. Otherwise, the returning officer issues a notice of contested election specifying when polling day will be.
During the election period, a candidate may not spend more than $600,000 or 30 cents for each person on the electoral register, whichever is greater. Permits must be obtained to hold election meetings and display posters and banners, and a number of acts are unlawful, including bribery, dissuading electors from voting, making false statements about candidates, treating and undue influence. Legal changes introduced in 2010 made the eve of polling day a "cooling-off day" – campaigning must not take place on that day and on polling day itself.
Polling day is a public holiday, and voting is compulsory. Voters must go to the polling stations assigned to them. After the poll closes, the presiding officer of each polling station seals the ballot boxes without opening them. Candidates or their polling agents may also affix their own seals to the ballot boxes. The ballot boxes are then taken to counting centres to be opened and the ballots counted. A candidate or his or her counting agent may ask the returning officer for a recount of votes if the difference between the number of votes for the candidate with the most votes and any other candidate's number of votes is 2% or less. After all counts, and recounts if any, have been completed, the returning officer ascertains whether the total number of electors registered to vote overseas is less than the difference between the number of votes for the two candidates with the highest number of votes. If so, the returning officer declares the candidate with the highest number of votes to be elected as President. If not, the overseas votes may be decisive. The returning officer then states the number of votes cast for each candidate and the date and location where the overseas votes will be counted.
The 2011 presidential election was the first election with a ballot since the 1993 election, and was also Singapore's first presidential election contested by more than two candidates. The election was won by Tony Tan Keng Yam with 745,693 (35.19%) of valid votes.
|Votes||% of valid votes|
|Tony Tan Keng Yam||745,693||35.20|
|Tan Cheng Bock||738,311||34.85|
|Tan Jee Say||530,441||25.04|
|(Loses deposit) Tan Kin Lian||104,095||4.91|
|Valid votes||2,118,540||98.24% of total votes cast|
|Invalid (e.g. blank or spoiled) votes||37,849||1.76% of total votes cast|
|Total votes cast||2,156,389||Voter turnout: 94.8% of electorate|
|Did not vote||118,384|
Assumption of office and disabilities
The person elected to the office of President assumes office on the day his predecessor ceases to hold office or, if the office is vacant, on the day following his election. Upon his assumption of office, the President is required to take and subscribe in the presence of the Chief Justice or of another Justice of the Supreme Court the Oath of Office, which states:
I, [name], having been elected President of the Republic of Singapore, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully discharge my duties as such to the best of my ability without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, and without regard to any previous affiliation with any political party, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Republic, and that I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.
- not hold any other office created or recognised by the Constitution;
- not actively engage in any commercial enterprise;
- not be a member of any political party; and
- if he or she is a member of Parliament, vacate his or her seat in Parliament.
Maintenance: The Civil List
The Parliament of Singapore is required to provide a civil list for the maintenance of the President, and it does so by way of the Civil List and Pension Act. For the current fiscal year, the sum under Class I of the list, which includes the President's personal pay ($4,267,500, known by the British term the "privy purse"), an entertainment allowance ($73,000) and an allowance for an Acting President ($4,500), is $4,279,300. The salaries for the President's personal staff (Class II) amount to $4,532,400. Speaking in Parliament on 10 March 2011, the Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam explained that the increases in these sums were to cater for the salaries of an additional staff officer to support the work of the Council of Presidential Advisers, and a butler manager; and to meet higher variable staff salary payments due to the nation's strong economic growth. The allowance for the Istana's household expenses (Class III) is $2,068,300. In addition to being used for ceremonies and celebrations, this allowance is used to cover the maintenance of the Istana, vehicles, utilities and other supplies. Class IV expenses for "special services" are $659,300. In previous years, this sum was used to cover various expenses such as the cost of replacing state cars and installing a new document repository. Overall, the current civil list of $11,605,000 represents an increase of about 12% from the sum for the past fiscal year of $10,354,700.
For the next financial year, the civil list will remain at $11.6 million. However, Class I expenses will be reduced to $3,782,000 due to lower anticipated variable payments, Class II expenses will rise slightly to $4,537,100, Class III expenses will increase by $610,100 to $2,678,400 to cover the cost of a presidential swearing-in ceremony, and Class IV expenses will fall to $607,500.
List of Presidents of the Republic of Singapore
|№||President||Start of term||End of term||Days|
|1|| Yusof Ishak
யூசோஃப் பின் இஷாக்
(12 August 1910 – 23 November 1970)
|9 August 1965|| 23 November 1970
|During this interval, the Speaker of Parliament, Yeoh Ghim Seng, was installed by Parliament as acting president until 2 January 1971.||40 days|
|2|| Benjamin Henry Sheares
பெஞ்சமின் ஹென்றி ஷியர்ஸ்
(12 August 1907 – 12 May 1981)
|2 January 1971|| 12 May 1981
|During this interval, Speaker Yeoh Ghim Seng was installed by Parliament as acting president until 23 October 1981.||164 days|
|3|| C. V. Devan Nair
சி.வி தேவன் நாயர்
(5 August 1923 – 6 December 2005)
|23 October 1981|| 28 March 1985
|During this interval, Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin was installed by Parliament as acting president until 29 March when he was replaced by Speaker of Parliament Yeoh Ghim Seng until 2 September 1985.||158 days|
|4|| Wee Kim Wee
வீ கிம் வீ
(4 November 1915 – 2 May 2005)
|2 September 1985|| 1 September 1993
|5|| Ong Teng Cheong
ஓங் டெங் சியோங்
(22 January 1936 – 8 February 2002)
|1 September 1993||31 August 1999||2190 days|
|6|| S. R. Nathan
எஸ். ஆர். நாதன்
(3 July 1924 – 22 August 2016)
| 1 September 1999
||31 August 2005||4382 days|
| 1 September 2005
||31 August 2011|
|7|| Tony Tan Keng Yam
டோனி டான் கெங் யாம்
(born 7 February 1940)
|1 September 2011||ends 31 August 2017||1925 days|
All the Presidents of Singapore to date have been men. Nonetheless, in a 2008 poll of 1,256 Singaporeans conducted by MyMailMoment.com, a lifestyle research portal run by SingTel, 63% of women respondents and 58% of male respondents said they would vote for a female president. Those aged 50 and older were the most receptive to the idea.
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- Constitution, Art. 20(1).
- Constitution, Arts. 22L(1)(a) to (c). The office of President also becomes vacant if it is determined that the election of the President was void and no other person was duly elected as President, or if on the expiration of the incumbent's term the person declared elected as President fails to take office: Arts. 22L(1)(d) and (e).
- Assuming a writ for a presidential election has not yet been issued before the vacation of office or, if it has been issued, has been countermanded: Constitution, Art. 17(3)(a).
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- Gwee, Kim Leng (28 July 2011), "People's voice: 'If Mr Tan wanted it his way, he should have stood in the GE' [letter]", The Straits Times, p. A28.
- Liew, Shiau Min (28 July 2011), "Hard to confine an elected president to his custodial role [letter]", The Straits Times, p. A28.
- Ng, Ya Ken (28 July 2011), "Stick to Constitution: 'State what contributions they would render in the purview, if elected' [letter]", The Straits Times, p. A28.
- Tin, Eric (28 July 2011), "Presidential hopeful's contradictions [letter]", The Straits Times, p. A28.
- Chia, Daniel (30 July 2011), "Accept EP's role or don't stand [letter]", The Straits Times, p. A45.
- Foo, Stephanie (30 July 2011), "Why a campaign promise may ring hollow [letter]", The Straits Times, p. A45.
- Tan, Cheng Bock (1 August 2011), "Why elected president must be the people's voice [letter]", The Straits Times, p. A27.
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