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Political observers call for review of Singapore’s criteria of Presidential candidates and propose 5 year waiting period for political leaders

Singaporean political observers express concern over the significantly higher eligibility criteria for private-sector presidential candidates compared to public-sector candidates, calling for adjustments.

Some also suggest a five year waiting period for aspiring political leaders after leaving their party before allowed to partake in the presidential election.

Notably, The Workers’ Party has earlier reiterated its position that the current qualification criteria favor PAP candidates and has called for a return to a ceremonial presidency instead of an elected one.



While the 2023 Presidential Election in Singapore concluded on Friday (1 September), discussions concerning the fairness and equity of the electoral system persist.

Several political observers contend that the eligibility criteria for private-sector individuals running for president are disproportionately high compared to those from the public sector, and they propose that adjustments be made.

They also recommend a five-year waiting period for aspiring political leaders after leaving their party before being allowed to participate in the presidential election.

Aspiring entrepreneur George Goh Ching Wah, announced his intention to in PE 2023 in June. However, His application as a candidate was unsuccessful, he failed to receive the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) on 18 August.

Mr Goh had expressed his disappointment in a statement after the ELD’s announcement, he said, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) took a very narrow interpretation of the requirements without explaining the rationale behind its decision.

As per Singapore’s Constitution, individuals running for the presidency from the private sector must have a minimum of three years’ experience as a CEO in a company.

This company should have consistently maintained an average shareholders’ equity of at least S$500 million and sustained profitability.

Mr Goh had pursued eligibility through the private sector’s “deliberative track,” specifically referring to section 19(4)(b)(2) of the Singapore Constitution.

He pointed out five companies he had led for over three years, collectively claiming a shareholders’ equity of S$1.521 billion.

Notably, prior to the 2016 revisions, the PEC might have had the authority to assess Mr Goh’s application similarly to how it did for Mr Tan Jee Say in the 2011 Presidential Election.

Yet, in its current formulation, the PEC is bound by the definitions laid out in the constitution.

Calls for equitable standards across public and private sectors

According to Singapore’s Chinese media outlet, Shin Min Daily News, Dr Felix Tan Thiam Kim, a political analyst at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore, noted that in 2016, the eligibility criteria for private sector candidates were raised from requiring them to be executives of companies with a minimum capital of S$100 million to CEOs of companies with at least S$500 million in shareholder equity.

However, the eligibility criteria for public sector candidates remained unchanged. He suggests that there is room for adjusting the eligibility criteria for public sector candidates.

Associate Professor Bilver Singh, Deputy Head of the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore, believes that the constitutional requirements for private-sector individuals interested in running are excessively stringent.

He remarked, “I believe it is necessary to reassess the relevant regulations.”

He points out that the current regulations are more favourable for former public officials seeking office and that the private sector faces notably greater challenges.

“While it may be legally sound, it may not necessarily be equitable,” he added.

Proposed five-year waiting period for political leaders eyeing presidential race

Moreover, despite candidates severing ties with their political parties in pursuit of office, shedding their political affiliations within a short timeframe remains a challenging endeavour.

A notable instance is Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who resigned from the People’s Action Party (PAP) just slightly over a month before announcing his presidential candidacy, sparking considerable debate.

During a live broadcast, his fellow contender, Ng Kok Song, who formerly served as the Chief Investment Officer of GIC, openly questioned Mr Tharman’s rapid transition to a presidential bid shortly after leaving his party and government.

Dr Felix Tan suggests that in the future, political leaders aspiring to run for the presidency should not only resign from their parties but also adhere to a mandatory waiting period of at least five years before entering the race.

Cherian George and Kevin Y.L. Tan: “illogical ” to raise the corporate threshold in 2016

Indeed, the apprehension regarding the stringent eligibility criteria and concerns about fairness in presidential candidacy requirements are not limited to political analysts interviewed by Singapore’s mainstream media.

Prior to PE2023, CCherian George, a Professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, and Kevin Y.L. Tan, an Adjunct Professor at both the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore and the NTU’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), brought attention to the challenges posed by the qualification criteria for candidates vying for the Singaporean Presidency.

In their article titled “Why Singapore’s Next Elected President Should be One of its Last,” the scholars discussed the relevance of the current presidential election system in Singapore and floated the idea of returning to an appointed President, emphasizing the symbolic and unifying role of the office.

They highlighted that businessman George Goh appeared to be pursuing the “deliberative track” for qualification, which requires candidates to satisfy the PEC that their experience and abilities are comparable to those of a typical company’s chief executive with shareholder equity of at least S$500 million.

Mr Goh cobbles together a suite of companies under his management to meet the S$500m threshold.

The article also underscored the disparities between the eligibility criteria for candidates from the public and private sectors, serving as proxies for evaluating a candidate’s experience in handling complex financial matters.

“It is hard to see what financial experience the Chairman of the Public Service Commission or for that matter, the Chief Justice has, when compared to a Minister or a corporate chief.”

“The raising of the corporate threshold in 2016 is thus illogical and serves little purpose other than to simply reduce the number of potentially eligible candidates.”

The article also touches upon the issue of candidates’ independence from political parties, particularly the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

It mentions that candidates are expected to be non-partisan and independent, and it questions how government-backed candidates can demonstrate their independence given their previous affiliations.

The Workers’ Party advocate for a return to a ceremonial presidency

It comes as no surprise that Singapore’s alternative party, the Workers’ Party, reaffirmed its stance on 30 August, asserting that they believe the existing qualifying criteria for presidential candidates are skewed in favour of those approved by the People’s Action Party (PAP).

They argue that the current format of the elected presidency (EP) undermines the principles of parliamentary democracy.

“It also serves as an unnecessary source of gridlock – one that could potentially cripple a non-PAP government within its first term – and is an alternative power centre that could lead to political impasses.”

Consistently, the Workers’ Party has been vocal about its objection to the elected presidency and has consistently called for its abolition.

Instead, they advocate for a return to a ceremonial presidency, a position they have maintained for over three decades.

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observers contend that the eligibility criteria for private-sector individuals running for president are disproportionately high compared to those from the public sector, and they propose that adjustments be made. while i think that is bull poop ’cause the “comitee” always chooses too many pappies, i am ok if they make that a 10 year waiting period for ONLY pappies because they favor pappies so much. as for WP’s view. that just sounds like sour grapes? i mean i mostly suppork them. but they’re pretty much saying they only want it unelected so they can have more power when they eventually… Read more »

Singaporeans have given mandate. Sg is mission impossible. Don’t waste time on this thing called singapulora

They have the “house” and they’ll continue to write the rules and make the laws, … to favour them and all of their objectives !!!

It is what it is, and, … shouldn’t come as a shock or surprise, sure~ly !!!

If the constitution is such that the Government is able to overrule the President’s decision and also the decision of the Council of Presidential Advisors, why then is the President needed for his two key responsibilities?
The Council of Presidential Advisors is already so stacked in favour of the Government, it makes Singaporeans wonder if ever the Council will stand against the Government, what use of the Council when the Government can overrule the Council and the President.
For this reason, it is better for Singapore reverts to the original Ceremonial Presidency role.

I have always advocated for a ceremonial president. I am glad more prominent and more knowledgeable luminaries think similarly. The current system means constant tweaking to suit the ruling party. I have always wondered why the PAP is so adamant to keep everything “in-house”. Would an outsider President really be so delibitating to the ruling party? Is the knowledge of the real amount of our reserves so sacrosanct that it must be “protected” at all cost? Would TS prevail had the doors been wide open for more candidates? Perhaps, on the strength of his personal charisma, he would. But he… Read more »

My CB (cuckoo bird) tells me this: What a BIG JOKE !!! . If garment sector runs and managed public reserves say $100 trillion? Are they going to tell us the next Presidential Candidate has to meet or follow $100 trillion criteria in the future in order to qualify? Those who has resigned from pappy party must have a minimum of 5 years cooling period of absence from the pappy parties or garment sectors. Dr. Felix Tan = My respects for you sir !! Yes: MOP (stay at home or work in the private sector) = 5 years. HAHAHAHA!!! Thank… Read more »

The EP results show a failure of our educators for decades. A system set up which contradicts all the principles of democracy has been supported by 70% without the ability to understand the elephant in the room. Instead of outrage for scamming a system, the candidate is rewarded. Perhaps you so called educators should look for other jobs instead of continuing to support an authoritarian govt. Exceptions for educators who work overseas.

Useless “political observers”

When its time to speak they remain silent
After the horse has bolted, they decide they found their tongues.

Why these “political observers” are paid a salary or commission is bewildering.
No need for these “observers”..

Anyway, Singapore politics is just a show performed for the world, particularly USA & UK.
PAP dare not anyhow throw people in jail… otherwise sanctions will be imposed on PAP