The President has two roles.
Since 1965, the President has held a ceremonial role. He is Head of State and represents all Singaporeans.
Since 1991, the President has held an additional custodial role:
(1) Safeguarding the Past Reserves, i.e. reserves grown from previous terms of Government; and
(2) Protecting the Integrity of the Public Service, by being able to veto key public service appointments.
Generally, the President exercises these functions in consultation with the Council of Presidential Advisers.
To ensure the President has the mandate to exercise these additional custodial powers, the Constitution was amended in 1991 so that the President would be elected directly by Singaporeans, rather than appointed by Parliament.
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Role of the Council of Presidential Advisers
The Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) advises the President in the exercise of his discretionary veto powers. The President must consult the CPA in the exercise of any of his discretionary powers in connection with appointments and the reserves. It is optional for the President to consult the CPA in other areas where he has discretionary powers.
CPA proceedings are private. The CPA may ask public officers to furnish information. Should any public officer appear before the CPA, the officer is prohibited by the Constitution from disclosing his discussions before the CPA with anyone else.
Who can run for President
Elections are generally open to prospective candidates from all races. However, to ensure multi-racial representation in the Presidency, an election for the office of the President will be reserved for a certain community if no person belonging to that community has held the office of the President for any of the 5 most recent terms of office.
Open elections are to be held if no candidate is successfully nominated at a reserved election. In such an eventuality, the Prime Minister will issue a fresh Writ declaring an open election or a reserved election for the next eligible community, where applicable.
On 8 November 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the next presidential election in 2017 would be reserved for Malay candidates, as Singapore has not had a Malay president since the introduction of the elected presidency scheme.
Changes to the Elected Presidency
On 9th November 2016, amendments to the constitution were passed by Parliament. Changes were made to the qualifying criteria for the elected presidency, which include:
- The entire qualifying tenure of the applicant’s experience must fall within the 20-year period immediately preceding the relevant Nomination Day.
- Private sector candidates must have served as the chief executive officer for a minimum of three years, of a company with at least S$500 million in shareholders’ equity.
- Reserving the presidential election for a candidate from a racial group that has not occupied the president’s office for five or more consecutive terms.
Other changes include the general time limit of between 30 days to six weeks for the president to exercise discretionary powers on different matters; and increasing the composition of the CPA from six to eight members.