President of Singapore
|President of the|
Republic of Singapore
|Type||Head of state|
|Term length||Six years, renewable|
|Inaugural holder||Yusof Ishak|
|Formation||9 August 1965; 57 years ago (1965-08-09)|
|Deputy||Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers|
The president of Singapore is the head of state of the Republic of Singapore. The role of the president is largely ceremonial, with the executive authority vested in the Cabinet led by the prime minister. The incumbent president is Halimah Yacob, who took office on 14 September 2017. She is also the first female president in the country's history.
The Constitution of Singapore sets strict eligibility requirements for the presidency. With constitutional amendments passed in 1991, the presidency became a popularly elected office with certain custodial powers, particularly over government expenditure and key political appointments. Prior to that, presidents were elected by the Parliament of Singapore.
It replaced the office of Yang di-Pertuan Negara, which was created when Singapore attained self-governance from the United Kingdom in 1959. The last Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Yusof Ishak, became the first president of Singapore. After his death in 1971, he was succeeded by Benjamin Sheares, who served until his death in 1981.
Sheares was succeeded by Devan Nair but stepped down in 1985 due to unclear circumstances, and was thereafter replaced by Wee Kim Wee, who served until 1993 and was the first president to exercise custodial powers pursuant to the constitutional amendments in 1991.
In January 1991, the Constitution[note 1] was amended to provide for the popular election of the president, a major constitutional and political change in Singapore's history. Under the revision, the president is empowered to veto the use of the country's past reserves and key political appointments. The president can also examine the administration's enforcement of the Internal Security Act and Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, and authorise corruption investigations (see below).
The first elected president was Ong Teng Cheong, who served as Deputy Prime Minister prior to his presidency. He served as president from 1993 to 1999.
The Singapore Government has, on the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers, deemed Ong's predecessor Wee Kim Wee the first elected president, on the basis that he had held and exercised the powers of the elected president. This was a result of transitional provisions in the Constitution of Singapore in 2017, which were affirmed by the High Court following a legal challenge by presidential hopeful Tan Cheng Bock. He appealed against this decision, but the Court of Appeal also dismissed it.
The sixth and longest-serving president, S. R. Nathan, was not elected by the members of public in a vote, but became president by virtue of being the sole candidate deemed qualified by the Presidential Elections Committee. He served his first term of office from 1999 to 2005 before being re-elected for a second term uncontested again, and he served until 2011.
After S. R. Nathan stepped down, Tony Tan, who served as Deputy Prime Minister between 1995 and 2005, won the 2011 presidential election by a narrow margin. He was sworn in as the seventh president of Singapore on 1 September 2011.
In 2016, further amendments to the Constitution were passed providing for "reserved elections" for a particular ethnic community, if that community has not provided a president in the past five presidential terms.
The eighth and incumbent president, Halimah Yacob, who served as Speaker of Parliament prior to her presidency, took office on 14 September 2017. She was the sole eligible candidate under the new reform terms which took effect earlier that year. She is the first Malay head of state in 47 years since the death of the first president of Singapore, Yusof Ishak. She is also the first female President of Singapore.
The president is the head of state of the Republic of Singapore. The executive authority of the country is vested in the president and exercisable by them or by the Cabinet or any minister authorised by the Cabinet. However, the Constitution vests "general direction and control of the Government" in the Cabinet. In most cases, the president is bound to exercise their powers in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a minister acting under the Cabinet's general authority.
The president only exercises limited powers in their personal discretion to block attempts by the government of the day to draw down past reserves it did not accumulate, to approve changes to key political appointments, and to exercise oversight over the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and decisions of the Executive under the Internal Security Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
As a component of the legislature together with Parliament, the president is also jointly vested with legislative authority. The president's primary role in the exercise of legislative power to make laws is assenting to bills passed by Parliament.
As the president exercises this constitutional function in accordance with the Cabinet's advice and not in their personal discretion except in certain circumstances, they may not refuse to assent to bills that Parliament has validly passed. The words of enactment in Singapore Statutes are: "Be it enacted by the president with the advice and consent of the Parliament of Singapore, as follows:". The president usually opens each parliamentary session with an address drafted by the Cabinet setting out the government's agenda for the session, and may address Parliament and send messages to it.
The president has been called "Singapore's No. 1 diplomat". Ambassadors and high commissioners accredited to Singapore present their credentials to the president, and the president is called upon by visiting foreign dignitaries. In addition, the president contributes to the nation's external relations by undertaking overseas trips on Cabinet's advice. The president also serves as the ex officio chancellor of both the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University.
Presidents have also used the office to champion charitable causes. Wee Kim Wee promoted sports and volunteerism; Ong Teng Cheong promoted culture and the arts, particularly music; and S. R. Nathan established the President's Challenge with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and its statutory board, the National Council of Social Service. As of 2011, the endeavour had raised more than S$100 million for charities supporting disabled and needy people.
The powers of the president are divided into those which the president may exercise in their own discretion, and those which must be exercised in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or of a minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet. In addition, the president is required to consult the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) when performing some of their functions. In other cases, they may consult the CPA if they wish to but is not bound to do so.
The Constitution confers on the president certain executive functions to block attempts by the government of the day to draw down past reserves that it did not accumulate. Thus, a guarantee may only be given or a loan raised by the government if the president concurs, and their approval is also needed for budgets of specified statutory boards and state-owned companies that draw on their past reserves.
The president also possesses personal discretion to withhold assent to any bill in Parliament providing directly or indirectly for the direct or indirect variation, changing or increase in powers of the Central Provident Fund Board to invest moneys belonging to it; and the borrowing of money, the giving of any guarantee or the raising of any loan by the government if in the president's opinion the bill is likely to draw on reserves not accumulated by the Government during its current term of office. In addition, the president may withhold assent to any Supply Bill, Supplementary Supply Bill or Final Supply Bill for any financial year if in their opinion the estimates of revenue and expenditure, supplementary estimates or statement of excess are likely to lead to a drawing on past reserves.
The president is also empowered to approve changes to key political appointments, such as the chief justice, attorney-general, chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, chief of Defence Force and the commissioner of Police. They also appoint the prime minister, a Member of Parliament (MP) who, in their opinion, is likely to command the confidence of a majority of MPs. The president has certain powers of oversight over the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and decisions of the Executive under the Internal Security Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
Under the Singapore Armed Forces Act, the president has the authority to raise and maintain the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The president also has the power to form, disband or amalgamate units within the SAF.
The term of office of the first elected president, Ong Teng Cheong, was marked by the differences between the government and him, concerning the extent of his discretionary fiscal powers. Discussions culminated in the government issuing a non-binding white paper entitled The Principles for Determining and Safeguarding the Accumulated Reserves of the Government and the Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Government Companies (1999).
In 2009, the government had to request for the approval from President S. R. Nathan to draw $4.9 billion from past financial reserves to meet current budget expenditure, the first time it had done so. The sum was used to fund the government's Resilience Package consisting of two schemes aimed at preserving jobs and businesses during the financial downturn.
A person who wishes to run for the office of president has to fulfil stringent qualifications set out in the Constitution, which are as follows:
- The president must be a citizen of Singapore.
- The president must not be less than 45 years of age.
- The president's name must appear in a current register of electors.
- The president must be resident in Singapore at the date of their nomination for election, and must have been so resident for periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than ten years prior to that date.
- The president must not be subject to any of the following disqualifications:
- (a) being and having been found or declared to be of unsound mind;
- (b) being an undischarged bankrupt;
- (c) holding an office of profit;
- (d) having been nominated for election to Parliament or the office of President or having acted as election agent to a person so nominated, failing to lodge any return of election expenses required by law within the time and in the manner so required;
- (e) having been convicted of an offence by a court of law in Singapore or Malaysia and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than one year or to a fine of not less than S$2,000 and having not received a free pardon, provided that where the conviction is by a court of law in Malaysia, the person shall not be disqualified unless the offence is also one which, had it been committed in Singapore, would have been punishable by a court of law in Singapore;
- (f) having voluntarily acquired the citizenship of, or exercised rights of citizenship in, a foreign country, or having made a declaration of allegiance to a foreign country;
- (g) being disqualified under any law relating to offences in connection with elections to Parliament or the office of President by reason of having been convicted of such an offence or having in proceedings relating to such an election been proved guilty of an act constituting such an offence.
- The president must be a person of integrity, good character and reputation.
- The president must not be a member of any political party on the date of their nomination for election.
- The president must have for a period of not less than three years held office —
- as Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General or Permanent Secretary;
- as chief executive officer (CEO) of a key statutory board or government company: the Central Provident Fund Board, the Housing and Development Board, the Jurong Town Corporation, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Temasek Holdings, or GIC Private Limited (formerly known as the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation);
- as the most senior executive of a company with an average of $500 million in shareholders' equity for the most recent three years in that office, and which is profitable after taxes; or
- in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organisation or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of president.
In November 2016, further amendments provide for "reserved elections" for a particular racial group (Chinese, Malay and Indian/other minority) — if that community has not been represented for five presidential terms. Other amendments were made to expand the list of key government companies eligible for the candidacy, and, for candidates using their private sector experience, the use of $500 million of shareholder equity instead of $100 million in paid-up capital. The changes went into effect in April 2017. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later explained that while he expected the "reserved election" policy to be unpopular among the population, he believed it was "the right thing to do".
The president holds office for a term of six years from the date on which they assume office. The office falls vacant upon the expiry of the incumbent's term or if the president is for some reason unable to complete their term; for example, due to death, resignation, or removal from office for misconduct or mental or physical infirmity. If the office of president becomes vacant before the incumbent's term expires, a poll for an election must be held within six months. In other cases, an election can take place any time from three months before the expiry of the incumbent's term of office.
The procedure for elections is laid out in the Presidential Elections Act. The process begins when the prime minister issues a writ of election to the returning officer specifying the date and place of nomination day. Potential candidates must obtain certificates of eligibility from the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), the function of which is to ensure that such persons have the necessary qualifications to be nominated as a candidate for the election. In particular, the PEC must be satisfied that the potential candidates are persons of integrity, good character and reputation; and if they have not previously held certain key government offices or acted as chairman of the board of directors or CEO of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act with shareholders' equity of at least $500 million, that they held a position of comparable seniority and responsibility in the public or private sector that has given them experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs. The PEC consists of the chairman of the Public Service Commission, who is also the chairman of the PEC, the chairman of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, and a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. For the 2017 presidential election, the members of the PEC are Eddie Teo (chairman), Lim Soo Hoon, Chan Heng Chee, Po'ad Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar, Tay Yong Kwang, and Peter Seah.
In addition, candidates must obtain political donation certificates from the registrar of political donations stating that they have complied with the Political Donations Act, and file their nomination papers with the returning officer on nomination day. A deposit must also be paid. The candidate is declared to have been elected president if only one candidate is nominated. Otherwise, the returning officer issues a notice of contested election specifying when polling day will be.
During the election period, a candidate may not spend more than $600,000 or 30 cents for each person on the electoral register, whichever is greater. Permits must be obtained to hold election meetings and display posters and banners, and a number of acts are unlawful, including bribery, dissuading electors from voting, making false statements about candidates, treating and undue influence. Legal changes introduced in 2010 made the eve of polling day a "cooling-off day" – campaigning must not take place on that day and on polling day itself.
Polling day is a public holiday, and voting is compulsory. Voters must go to the polling stations assigned to them. After the poll closes, the presiding officer of each polling station seals the ballot boxes without opening them. Candidates or their polling agents may also affix their own seals to the ballot boxes. The ballot boxes are then taken to counting centres to be opened and the ballots counted. A candidate or his or her counting agent may ask the returning officer for a recount of votes if the difference between the number of votes for the candidate with the most votes and any other candidate's number of votes is 2% or less. After all counts, and recounts if any, have been completed, the returning officer ascertains whether the total number of electors registered to vote overseas is less than the difference between the number of votes for the two candidates with the highest number of votes. If so, the returning officer declares the candidate with the highest number of votes to be elected as president. If not, the overseas votes may be decisive. The returning officer then states the number of votes cast for each candidate and the date and location where the overseas votes will be counted.
Last contested election
The 2011 presidential election was the first election with a ballot since the 1993 election, and was also Singapore's first presidential election contested by more than two candidates. The election was won by Tony Tan Keng Yam with 745,693 (35.19%) of valid votes.
|Tan Cheng Bock||738,311||34.85|
|Tan Jee Say||530,441||25.04|
|Tan Kin Lian||104,095||4.91|
|Source: Singapore Elections|
Assumption of office and disabilities
The person elected to the office of president assumes office on the day his predecessor ceases to hold office or, if the office is vacant, on the day following his election. Upon his assumption of office, the president is required to take and subscribe in the presence of the chief justice or of another justice of the Supreme Court the Oath of Office, which states:
I, [name], having been elected President of the Republic of Singapore, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully discharge my duties as such to the best of my ability without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, and without regard to any previous affiliation with any political party, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Republic, and that I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.
Once elected, the president shall:
- not hold any other office created or recognised by the Constitution;
- not actively engage in any commercial enterprise;
- not be a member of any political party; and
- if he or she is a Member of Parliament (MP), vacate his or her seat in Parliament.
In the case when the president is unable to perform their duties, their powers are temporarily transferred to the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA). If the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers is not available, the speaker of the Parliament performs the duties of the president. If both are unavailable the presidential functions are performed by an individual appointed by the Parliament.
Salary and entitlements
The Parliament of Singapore is required to provide a civil list for the maintenance of the president, and it does so by way of the Civil List and Gratuity Act. With effect from 17 February 2012, the sum under Class I of the list, which includes the president's personal pay ($1,568,900, known by the British term the "privy purse"), an entertainment allowance ($73,000) and an allowance for an acting president ($4,500), is $1,646,400. The privy purse was reduced from $4,267,500 after the president accepted the Ministerial Salaries Review Committee's recommendations on the matter.
The salaries for the president's personal staff (Class II) amount to $4,532,400. Speaking in Parliament on 10 March 2011, Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam explained that this sum was to cater for the salaries of an additional staff officer to support the work of the Council of Presidential Advisers, and a butler manager; and to meet higher variable staff salary payments due to the nation's strong economic growth. The allowance for the Istana's household expenses (Class III) is $2,762,308, an increase from $694,000. This allowance is used to cover the maintenance of the Istana, vehicles, utilities and other supplies, as well as for ceremonies and celebrations. The increase was to cater for higher expenses for maintaining computer systems, buildings and land, and to account for inflation.
Class IV expenses for "special services" are $550,000. In previous years, this sum was used to cover various expenses such as the cost of replacing state cars and installing a new document repository. Overall, the current civil list of $9,491,100 represents a decrease of about 18% from the sum for the past fiscal year of $11,605,000.
List of presidents
|No.||Portrait||President||Prior Office||Term of office||Elected|
|Took office||Left office||Time in office|
|1||Yusof Ishak |
|Yang di-Pertuan Negara||9 August 1965||23 November 1970 |
|5 years, 106 days||Elected by Parliament|
|During this interval, the Speaker of Parliament, Yeoh Ghim Seng, was installed by Parliament as Acting President.||40 days||—|
|2||Benjamin Sheares |
|—||2 January 1971||12 May 1981 |
|10 years, 131 days||Elected by Parliament|
|During this interval, Speaker of Parliament, Yeoh Ghim Seng was installed by Parliament as Acting President.||165 days||—|
|3||Devan Nair |
சி.வி தேவன் நாயர்
|Member of Parliament for Anson SMC||23 October 1981||28 March 1985 |
|3 years, 157 days||Elected by Parliament|
|During this interval, Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin was installed by Parliament as Acting President.||2 days||—|
|During this interval, Speaker of Parliament, Yeoh Ghim Seng was installed by Parliament as Acting President.||158 days||—|
|4||Wee Kim Wee |
|Singapore Ambassador to South Korea||2 September 1985||1 September 1993 |
|8 years||Elected by Parliament|
|5||Ong Teng Cheong |
|Deputy Prime Minister||1 September 1993||31 August 1999||6 years||1993 (58.69%)|
|6||S. R. Nathan |
|1 September 1999 |
|31 August 2005||12 years||1999 (Walkover)|
|1 September 2005 |
|31 August 2011||2005 (Walkover)|
|7||Tony Tan |
| ||1 September 2011||31 August 2017||6 years||2011 (35.20%)|
|During this interval, the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers, J. Y. Pillay, served as Acting President.||15 days||—|
|8||Halimah Yacob |
|Speaker of Parliament||14 September 2017||Incumbent||5 years, 10 days||2017 (Walkover)|
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- Liew, Shiau Min (28 July 2011), "Hard to confine an elected president to his custodial role [letter]", The Straits Times, p. A28.
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