Not tenable for Government to remain silent on issue

As we have reported earlier, many sources, including our former prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, Government ministers, government-linked websites and the Constitutional Commission, have all recognised President Ong Teng Cheong as Singapore’s first Elected President.

Yet, the current government insist on giving that honour to President Wee Kim Wee based solely on a technicality, a technicality which the Government said was based on advice from the Attorney-General.

The reason for bestowing the honour of being our nation’s first Elected President on the late President Wee is that he had exercised the responsibilities of the elected presidency during his tenure. In particular, during the second half of his second term in office.

This despite the fact that President Wee never contested or took part in an open election for the presidency, unlike President Ong who succeeded him.

By accepting the Attorney-General’s advice on the matter, the Government has now changed Singapore’s political history, a history which until January this year, had cast President Ong as our first Elected President.

This re-direction of Singapore’s history is in spite of the more than one and a half decades since President Ong’s death, whereby no one, including the Government, had raised doubts or questions about President Ong’s rightful place in the annals.

Despite the Constitution Commission itself recognising President Ong as the first Elected President, the Government has ignored calls for it to do the right thing and bestow the honour on President Ong.

Yet, even as we debate this – something which we should not even be doing as the facts are plain – the Istana website continues to affirm President Ong’s status as the nation’s first Elected President.

The Istana declares President SR Nathan, who succeeded President Ong, as Singapore’s “second Elected President”.

Istana website

If President Nathan is the “second Elected President”, then who is the first? Would that not be the person who preceded him, President Ong?

Presidential candidate in the 2011 election, Tan Cheng Bock, has asked the Government to explain why it had arrived at the decision to designate President Wee as the first Elected President.

The Government’s response?

A curt: There is no need for a response.

Arrogance indeed, even as an entire nation questions the Government’s decision on the matter.

What about releasing the Attorney-General’s advice to the public, as Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim asked for in Parliament in February?

The Government’s response?

A challenge: take it up with the courts, and don’t impugn the integrity of the Prime Minister!

The minister who responded to Ms Lim, Chan Chun Sing, said it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to decide whether he wants to release the Attorney General’s advice to the public.

But to date, the Prime Minister has been completely silent on this.

All this evasiveness adds to the circulation of speculation and this is entirely regrettable and unnecessary.

Questions remain, and it is not tenable for the Government to insist on being tight-lipped.

For example, at the recent celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Attorney General’s Chambers in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said:

“Most recently, AGC helped to translate the Constitution Commission’s recommendations on the Elected Presidency into law, in particular, introducing reserved elections to safeguard minority representation in the Elected Presidency.”

The relevant question here is: the Constitution Commission had stated that the first Elected President is President Ong Teng Cheong. How did this translate to President Wee being the first Elected President instead?

Should not the Government or the Attorney-General explain, in detail?

Constitutional Commission Report, page 92

PM Lee also said, in his speech (emphasis added):

“[It] is important that Government departments and AGC work closely together as partners, jointly taking responsibility for the advice and the decisions, so that the department has the benefit of professional, unbiased legal advice and can confidently do what is necessary, informed by a full understanding of the legal position and its consequences.”

Would it not be the responsible thing to do to release and publish the Attorney-General’s advice which he gave to the Government on the matter of who should be regarded as Singapore’s first Elected President, given that this has important and significant consequences not just for our political and national history (imagine all the documents which would need to be changed to reflect this new decree, for example) but also as a matter of integrity (of all past proclamations) and dignity for the late President Ong who served our nation with distinction for more than 2 decades?

Why choose silence and breed speculations? Why not choose openness and allow light to shine on the matter instead, especially when Singapore’s history is being changed, and changed seemingly on a whim?

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