In a speech in January 1997, the late President Ong Teng Cheong referred to himself as “the first elected President” of Singapore. This runs counter to what the government has said – that it is Wee Kim Wee, not President Ong, who has that honour.
The Government has said that it was advised by the Attorney General that the count of the terms of elected Presidents in Singapore should start with President Wee.
When asked to disclose this “advice” which the government claimed the AG gave, the government has refused to do so.
Facebook user Alvin Tan posted on his Facebook page a copy of President Ong’s 1997 speech, which the latter made at the swearing-in of the new Cabinet at the time.
President Ong said [emphasis added]:
“Having served 3½ years as the first elected President, I can attest to the importance of having a good, honest and thrifty government….”
You can view his full speech in the official government archives here.
Mr Ong, as with many others including the National Library Board and news agencies, believed that he was the first Elected President. Even former Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, was of this belief, as he clearly expressed in his 2002 condolence letter to Mr Ong’s son when the latter passed away:
With the (non)election of Halimah Yacob to the presidency, made possible by the change in the law to count Wee Kim Wee as Singapore’s first Elected President, President Ong no longer officially has that honour of being the nation’s first Elected President.
The Attorney General or the Prime Minister should release the advice given, so that Singaporeans can understand why it is President Wee, who did not contest in any open elections, and not President Ong, who won in an open election, who qualifies as Singapore’s first Elected President.
Until then, Halimah Yacob will continue to face the ignominy of being seen as nothing more than a puppet president whose ascension to the office was engineered by those who have denied President Ong his rightful place in history. And that the whole process would be seen by some as “a farce engineered to parachute her into the job”, as Professor Walter Woon of the National University of Singapore told the media on Monday.