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Maruah rejects changes to Elected President rules23 March 2016Human rights group Maruah has spoken out against the proposed tightening of eligibility rules for Singapore’s Elected President, calling the proposed change “undemocratic and elitist”.Last month, a nine-member Constitutional Commission was tasked to review and make recommendations on certain aspects of the Elected Presidency. The scope of the review included the eligibility criteria for presidential candidacy, safeguarding minority representation in the presidency and the framework governing the exercise of the President’s custodial powers, particularly the role and composition of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).In its submissions to the Constitutional Commission on March 21, which were sent to the media yesterday, Maruah argued that “in view of rising inequality in Singapore, cementing a business and administrative elite into place via restrictive criteria for the Presidency and Council of Presidential Advisers would be perceived as undemocratic and elitist”.It pointed out that the Government has not made a convincing argument that reducing the pool of candidates based on company size criterion would produce a better President. “If we take the Government’s claim that chairmen and CEOs of large companies are intrinsically qualified for high political office, then Donald Trump would be eminently qualified for the Presidency,” said Maruah, referring to the American tycoon currently leading in the Republican presidential primary race in the United States.It added: “One of the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis was that even leaders of very large and complex companies worth billions of dollars were not immune from making self-serving and irresponsible decisions that ultimately hurt shareholders and the public purse.”The group also felt it was unnecessary to introduce criteria to safeguard minority representation, saying the proposed move would run against Singapore’s principles of treating all Singaporeans equally “regardless of race, language or religion”.“Given the Government’s presumed intention to narrow the pool of private sector candidates on financial experience grounds, further narrowing of the pool on racial grounds may result in a lack of viable candidates and the election of second-, third- or even fourth-best candidates,” said Maruah.As for reviewing the framework governing the exercise of the President’s custodial powers and the CPA, Maruah said it was unclear what the Government’s concerns with the CPA are.“There is no reason to believe that any of these people would nominate a person who does not have the character, judgment, experience and ability to serve as a member of the CPA,” said Maruah.“Giving an unelected body such as the CPA greater powers and cementing a business and government elite into place via restrictive criteria for membership in the CPA will be seen as unrepresentative and undemocratic.”The deadline for submitting feedback to the Constitutional Commission, headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, was March 21. The commission may invite contributors to make oral representations at public hearings, which will likely take place over a number of days between April 18 and May 15. The next Presidential Election must be held by August 2017.Earlier this month, former Member of Parliament Tan Cheng Bock announced his intention to make a second bid at becoming President, after losing narrowly in 2011.
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