SM Teo: Tan Cheng Bock’s proposal on caretaker govt unconstitutional
Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday told Parliament that delaying elections by having the president form a caretaker government - a proposal made by opposition leader Tan Cheng Bock - is unconstitutional.
He was responding to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah), who had asked for the Government's stand on Dr Tan's suggestion.
Dr Tan, who had run for president in 2011 and now leads the Progress Singapore Party, had earlier called for elections to be delayed until after the Covid-19 outbreak situation has eased.
He said that if the elections could not be held by the April 2021 deadline, the president could form a caretaker government with some of the MPs.
SM Teo said: "I've sought the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) on whether this can be done. The advice of the AGC is, to delay an election beyond the required date in such a manner is unconstitutional."
Mr Teo explained that the only circumstance in which an election can be put off is when a state of emergency is declared - something that has never happened here. And even in such an event, he noted there is no legal basis or practical need for the president to form a new government if the incumbent Cabinet is still in office.
"It is not helpful to mislead people into thinking that such an option exists to put off elections indefinitely and for the President to form a new government when this goes against the Constitution," he said.
"To suggest this shows a disregard for or lack of understanding of the Constitution. Putting forward constitutionally unworkable proposals at a time of serious national crisis can only confuse and mislead Singaporeans to the detriment of Singapore and Singaporeans," he added.
Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, questioned whether a caretaker government was a good way for a country to deal with a crisis.
"Even if there is a caretaker government under a state of emergency, it would by definition be a caretaker. It would be hobbled by the fact that it lacks the explicit mandate of voters and would therefore not be in a position to take major decisions on behalf of Singaporeans..." said Mr Teo.
"This is the fundamental problem," he said. "Just when we need a government with a clear mandate to pull out all the stops in a crisis, to implement strong mitigation measures, to mobilise our resources and reserves to implement strong economic stabilisation measures to save jobs and livelihoods, and to steer the country through the Covid-19 crisis, a caretaker government would not have a mandate to do so.
"So how can this be in the best interest of the country and our people?"
Mr Teo said the next election could feature campaign speeches streamed live online and safe distancing measures at voting stations, noting that necessary precautions will be taken whenever polls are held.
He stressed that an election would not get in the way of any of the measures put in place in recent weeks to fight the virus.