Tan Cheng Bock goes to court to challenge reserved EP timing

Tan Cheng Bock goes to court to challenge reserved EP timing
Dr Tan Cheng Bock speaks at a press conference on March 31, 2017. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY
He argues that it has only been four terms since Elected Presidency was introduced
Published: 7:30 PM, May 8, 2017
Updated: 11:37 AM, May 9, 2017

SINGAPORE — Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock has made a legal challenge in the High Court against the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ (AGC) finding that Dr Wee Kim Wee was Singapore’s first Elected President. The decision formed the basis for triggering a reserved election for Malay candidates for the polls in September.

The application, filed last Friday, was accepted by the court on Monday (May 8). 

A pre-trial conference has been fixed on May 22, said Dr Tan in a Facebook post. 

He is contesting the constitutionality of reserving the upcoming presidential election, arguing that it has been only four terms since the Elected Presidency (EP) was introduced. 

Changes to the EP scheme, passed in November last year, included triggering a reserved election for a particular race that has not seen an elected representative for five consecutive terms. 

On the advice of the AGC, the Government started counting the five terms from Dr Wee’s presidency. 

The late Dr Wee was the first President to exercise powers under the EP scheme, after it was introduced in 1991 while Dr Wee was in office.

Dr Tan, however, contends that the count should start with Mr Ong Teng Cheong, making it four terms since the Republic has had an elected Malay President. 

The upcoming presidential polls should, therefore, be an open election, he said, in a press conference on the same issue in March. 

After that press conference, the Ministry of Communications and Information had said Dr Tan did not raise any new points that required the Government’s response. 

This prompted Dr Tan to engage Queen’s Counsel Lord David Pannick on whether the AGC was right to start counting from Dr Wee’s term.

Dr Tan, a medical doctor, said Lord Pannick disagreed with the AGC’s advice to the Government. 

“After receiving Lord Pannick’s reply, I felt I could not keep his legal opinion to myself. It would be in public interest to have the Court decide which legal view is correct — Lord Pannick(’s) or the AG(’s),” 
he wrote. 

Lawyers from Tan, Rajah and Cheah are acting for him, and they submitted Lord Pannick’s written opinion to the court.

Dr Tan added: “I believe this question can be answered without confrontation or hostility. Both the Government and I have the nation’s best interests at heart. It is in nobody’s interest to have a reserved election that is unconstitutional. I am satisfied that I have, to the best of my ability and capacity, done my part to do what is right in the circumstances, which is to bring to this Court’s attention Lord Pannick’s opinion.”

He said he would refrain from further public comment since the case is now before the court. 

Dr Tan, a former Member of Parliament from the People’s Action Party, narrowly lost the 2011 election to Dr Tony Tan, the current President.

Responding to media queries on case, an AGC spokesman said: “We will study the papers when they are served on us."