Writ of election ‘could be issued days after National Day Rally’

Writ of election ‘could be issued days after National Day Rally’
Published: 4:00 AM, August 8, 2017
Updated: 6:34 PM, August 8, 2017

SINGAPORE — The writ of election for the presidency could be issued days after the National Day Rally on Aug 20, political analysts ventured yesterday.

Such a move would be in line with the Government’s aim, announced in February, to make sure the campaigning period does not coincide with National Day celebrations.

Should there be a contest, analysts predict Singaporeans would likely head to the polls on the weekends of Sept 9 and 10 or Sept 23 and 24 — instead of the weekend of the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, which takes place from Sept 15 to 17.

The earliest the writ could be issued is on Aug 21, said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan, as the National Day Rally on Aug 20 will mark “the end of the National Day celebrations, at least where the Government is concerned”.

The Government had earlier said it would move campaigning out of the month of August, even though President Tony Tan’s term expires on Aug 31, to avoid clashing with the celebrations.

“This resets the clock, so that, in future, Presidential Elections campaigning will take place outside of the National Day period, assuming Presidents serve their full six-year terms,” said Minister in Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing during a parliamentary debate in February on amendments to the Presidential Elections Act.

After a writ is issued for the Presidential Election, hopefuls must submit their applications for a community certificate and a certificate of eligibility within five days, and a Community Committee and Presidential Elections Committee will have at least 10 days after the writ to assess applications.

This year, an Acting President will assume the office after Aug 31, until Dr Tan’s successor is elected.

Under the Constitution, the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) — a position currently held by Mr J Y Pillay — will be the Acting President.

Dr Felix Tan, an associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, said the polls could be held in the first weekend of September as this would be “politically expedient”. “My suspicion is either before or after the school holidays (from Sept 2 to 10) … Certain segments of the political elite might want to resolve this issue so that they can move on quickly to other more important matters the country is facing,” he said.

Nomination Day must be held not less than 10 days — but no more than one month — after the writ is issued to give the Presidential Elections Committee and the Community Committee time to assess applications.

Under Singapore’s election laws, campaigning — the period between Nomination Day and Cooling-off Day — can extend to 55 days, with the minimum being nine days.

Assoc Prof Eugene Tan said polling day could be on Sept 23, after the F1 weekend, while Dr Mustafa Izzuddin from the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute reckoned it could be in the second week of September. If the writ is issued after the National Day Rally, Nomination Day will probably take place in the last week of this month, Dr Mustafa said.

Asked if the duration of the Republic having an Acting President would be a major consideration in when to call the presidential election, Assoc Prof Eugene Tan said: “It is not an inordinate delay and the Constitution does provide for such a scenario when the office becomes vacant.”

Both Assoc Prof Eugene Tan and Dr Felix Tan said a walkover is a possibility although three potential candidates have announced their bids so far.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob announced on Sunday she would enter the race, after Second Chance Properties chief executive Mohamed Salleh Marican and marine service provider Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan Kaim Khan said they wanted to contest.

Mdm Halimah appears to be “the only one so far who qualifies outright” and the Presidential Elections Committee may issue only one certificate of eligibility, said Assoc Prof Eugene Tan.

Requirements for private sector candidates include having run a company with at least S$500 million in shareholder equity, on average, for the most recent three years. The Presidential Elections Committee has the discretion to certify that a candidate who does not automatically meet the criteria can stand for election.

For the coming presidential race, prospective candidates will have to submit a community declaration to the Community Committee to certify their ethnic group.

A “fact-finding process” will be conducted by the Malay community sub-committee to decide if the candidate belongs to the community. The person may be interviewed and required to provide further information, among other things. KELLY NG