Tan Cheng Bock loses appeal on election

This article is more than 12 months old

Under Constitution, Parliament free to choose term to trigger reserved election

The Court of Appeal yesterday unanimously dismissed the appeal of former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock on the timing of the reserved election.

Dr Tan said in a Facebook post that he accepted the verdict with a heavy heart. He also wished those taking part in the election all the best.

The decision by the five judges clears remaining legal doubts about the Government's decision to reserve the presidential election next month for Malay candidates. It paves the way for the Writ of Election to be issued.

The apex court disagreed with Dr Tan's argument that it was unconstitutional for the Government to start counting the five terms to trigger a reserved election from that of then president Wee Kim Wee as he was not elected by the people.

The court upheld a July judgment that Parliament has the right to count from Mr Wee's term. It gave its reasons in a judgment that spelt out the correct interpretation of two articles in the Constitution.

Article 19(B) says a presidential election shall be reserved for candidates of a particular community if no one of it has held the office of president for the five most recent terms of office. Article 164 requires Parliament to specify, by separate legislation, the first term to be counted.

The court found reading both articles shows Parliament is free to choose a term of office, before the amendments to the Constitution went into force on April 1 this year, as the first of the five most recent terms.

The court found the definition of a president elected under the Constitution covers those elected by Parliament as well.

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair, representing the Government, made this argument, while Senior Counsel Chelva Retnam Rajah, Dr Tan's lawyer, said a president must be popularly elected.

The court found some material submitted by Dr Tan's legal team to be irrelevant - particularly the report by the Constitutional Commission, which recommended the reserved election, and the Government's White Paper that accepted it.

The reason is that they did not address when the count could start to determine whether to reserve an election. Instead, they were about the concept of the reserved election.

The court rejected Mr Rajah's argument that Parliament chose to start counting from Mr Wee's term as it wrongly thought he was elected by citizens.

It said nothing in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's statement during the parliamentary debate, or those of any other MPs, suggested they believed Mr Wee had been elected by the citizens. Rather, Mr Lee's statement stated Mr Wee was chosen as he was the first president to exercise the functions of the elected president.


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