Case Summaries

Tan Cheng Bock v Attorney-General [2017] SGHC 160

SUPREME COURT OF SINGAPORE

7 July 2017

Media Summary       

Originating Summons No 495 of 2017

Tan Cheng Bock v Attorney-General [2017] SGHC 160

 

  1. The Plaintiff sought a declaration that s 22 of the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Act 2017 or, alternatively, the reference to President Wee Kim Wee in the Schedule to the Presidential Elections Act, is inconsistent with Arts 19B(1) and 164(1)(a) of the Constitution and thus unconstitutional and void. The effect of these enactments is that the Plaintiff will not be able to stand in the 2017 Presidential Election, which will be a Reserved Election for the Malay community.

  2. Article 19B(1) provides for a Reserved Election for a community if no person from that community has held the office of President for any of the five most recent terms of office of the President. Article 164(1)(a) provides for Parliament to specify the first term of office of the President to be counted under Art 19B(1) (“First Term”).

  3. The Plaintiff argued that the ordinary meaning of Art 19B(1), read in the light of the other provisions in the Constitution, is that only the terms of office of Presidents who are elected by the citizens of Singapore to serve for six-year terms are counted under Art 19B(1). This ordinary meaning is consistent with the purpose of Art 19B(1) as reflected in the Report of the Constitutional Commission 2016 (“the Report”), the White Paper which the Government issued in response to the Report (“the White Paper”), and the Parliamentary debates on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2016 (“the Parliamentary Debates”). President Wee was not elected by the citizens of Singapore and his terms of office were four years long each. Therefore, Parliament had infringed Art 19B(1) and acted unconstitutionally in specifying President Wee’s second term as the First Term.

  4. The Defendant argued that, on a plain reading of Art 164(1)(a), Parliament has full discretion to specify the term of office of any President of Singapore as the First Term. Furthermore, Art 19B(1) does not fetter Parliament’s full discretion under Art 164(1)(a). This is clear from the ordinary meaning of Art 19B(1) read in the light of the other provisions of the Constitution, and from the purpose of Arts 19B and 164 as reflected in the Parliamentary Debates, the Report and the White Paper. Thus, Parliament’s choice of President Wee’s second term as the First Term is not unconstitutional.

Judgment

 

    5.     The High Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s application for the following reasons.

    6.     First, the court found that, on a plain reading of Art 164, Parliament is not limited to choosing a particular term of office of the President as the First Term. However, the power under Art 164(1)(a) must be exercised in accordance with Art 19B(1) because the purpose of Art 164 is to enable Parliament to implement Art 19B.

    7.     Secondly, the court found that there is nothing in the text or textual context of Art 19B which limits Parliament’s power under Art 164(1)(a) by requiring Parliament to start the count under Art 19B(1) from the term of office of a popularly elected President.

    8.     Thirdly, the court found that, when Art 19B(1) is read in the light of its legislative purpose as garnered from the relevant extraneous materials, it bears the same meaning as and confirms the ordinary meaning of Art 19B(1) read in the light of its textual context. 

    9.      For these reasons, Parliament had acted constitutionally in specifying President Wee’s second term of office as the First Term. The application was therefore dismissed.

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court.

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