TRANSCRIPT OF TV DEBATE ON THE ELECTED PRESIDENT PROPOSAL - 1988
Transcribed by Nathaniel Koh on 18th & 19th April 2009 from Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, Level 11, ENGLISH 324.7 ELE. Reposted with permission.
NARRATOR: This morning, a TV debate was recorded between the People’s Action Party and Opposition parties on the proposal for an Elected President. Mr Goh Chok Tong and Brigadier-General Lee Hsien Loong represented the People’s Action Party. Mr JB Jeyaratnam represented the Workers’ Party, and Mr Chiam See Tong, the Singapore Democratic Party. The moderator was Professor KS Sandhu.
We bring you now the debate in English, unedited.
Rules of the TV debate: The duration of the debate will not exceed 60 minutes. 50% of the time will go to the People’s Action Party and the other 50% to the Opposition parties as a group. Timekeepers will alert participants when their time is up. Format of the debate: The debate will start with opening statements. The People’s Action Party will be given 6 minutes, and the Opposition parties as a group 6 minutes - 3 minutes for each Opposition party. This will be followed by a debate on positions. The People’s Action Party will have 12 minutes to cross-examine the positions of the Opposition parties. Then, the Opposition parties will cross-examine the People’s Action Party’s position for 12 minutes. 6 minutes will be allotted for the moderator to seek clarifications. The debate will end with closing statements. The Opposition parties first. They will be given 6 minutes - 3 minutes for each party. The People’s Action Party representatives will then have 6 minutes to make their closing statements. The moderator’s ruling regarding duration, relevancy to the issue debated, and other related matters will be final.
MODERATOR (MOD): As all Singaporeans know, the government last month published a White Paper to provide for an Elected President to safeguard accumulated national financial assets and the integrity of the public services. Also, that this proposal has become an election issue. Indeed, there have been calls for a TV debate on this by Opposition parties. Responding to such calls and associated public interest, the SBC took the initiative to organise such a debate and approached the PAP and the main Opposition parties to participate in it.
Accordingly, to participate in this debate on the Elected President proposal are on the one hand the PAP, and on the other, the Opposition Workers’ and Singapore Democratic Parties. Representing the PAP are Mr Goh Chok Tong and BG Lee Hsien Loong. While the Workers’ and Singapore Democratic Parties are represented by Mr JB Jeyaratnam and Mr Chiam See Tong respectively.
The debate will comprise essentially of three parts: opening statements by the competing parties, followed by rebuttals and clarifications, and finally, closing statements. I’m the moderator, and my job is to enforce the rules agreed upon as well as to keep the debate on schedule. In this regard, the participants have been again reminded that time is of the essence and any unnecessary deviation from the topic under debate would be a golden opportunity missed. With these guidelines, it is time to get the debate underway. To do so, I have great pleasure now in inviting Mr Goh Chok Tong to make the opening statements on behalf of the PAP. Mr Goh.
OPENING STATEMENTS BY PEOPLE’S ACTION PARTY
GOH CHOK TONG (GCT): Thank you, Mr Chairman. The Elected President is to protect our reserves. These are your hard earned savings, your CPF money, which is looked after on your behalf by the government. Presently, the only safeguard is the integrity of the PAP government. If an irresponsible, unscrupulous and dishonest government should one day come into power, they can spend your money without telling you about it. When you retire at 55 and try to withdraw your CPF, it will be gone. Hence our proposal to create an Elected President.
First, to safeguard reserves and secondly, to protect the integrity of the civil service. How can it do this? The Elected President must consent if the government wants to spend reserves which it itself has not accumulated, to make certain key appointments, for example, appointments to members of the Public Service Commission or judges of the Supreme Court. The Elected President will have the custodial powers, custodial powers to say no in these two key areas, and the moral authority to block the elected government again in these two areas. He will not have the right to initiate policies himself even in these two areas, be given any powers in other unrelated areas, or be an executive President, like the US or French President. It is a two-key safeguard mechanism. To unlock the reserves and take out the money, both keys must be used. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet hold one key, and the President, the other. The veto powers over key appointments are necessary to protect the judiciary, the SAF and other key institutions from political corruption, to prevent an unscrupulous government from packing the Public Service Commission or the MAS with corrupt appointees who will do their bidding and spend the reserves secretly without telling you or even the Elected President.
The Opposition have claimed that the Elected President proposal is designed for Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In fact, the PM has told the Cabinet that he was not interested in the job. He wanted to say this publicly. I have told him not to do so because I know that there are many Singaporeans who would like him to be the first Elected President, and anyway, he should not close the option, because I believe he has a lot to contribute to Singapore even after he has stepped down as Prime Minister. He is a national resource. The Elected President proposal is a major change in our Constitution. That is why the PAP wants it to be thoroughly discussed and debated and endorsed by Singaporeans. The government has been thinking about this, about how to safeguard your reserves since 1982. The Elected President was first publicly discussed in 1984 before the last general elections, and the government has deliberately released the White Paper on the Elected President before this general election so that it will be fully debated before the electorate. After the general elections, the government will table the bill in parliament on the Elected President. The proposal will be put to a select committee so that more views can be heard. Now, I do not believe in government by referendum, but if despite the prolonged consultation, at the end of the process, there is no consensus on the Elected President, then despite my reservations, we will put the question to a referendum.
In 1984, both Workers’ Party and SDP campaigned on the platform of denying the PAP a two-thirds majority, so that they could not amend the Constitution to create an Elected President. They failed. The government had the time and the majority to push the Elected President proposal through this year before we call for an election. It chose not to. Why should it want to ram through the Elected President proposal or any other hidden proposals after the general elections? Why should it want to do so when we have not done so before this? Thank you.
OPENING STATEMENTS BY WORKERS’ PARTY
MOD: Mr JB Jeyaratnam.
JB JEYARATNAM (JBJ): The Workers’ Party’s position is very clear. The issue is not whether there should be adequate safeguards to protect the financial assets of the country, that there should be adequate safeguards to prevent an irresponsible government from squandering our financial assets is accepted by the Party without question. But the Party believes that already we have adequate safeguards in our institution of parliamentary government. The issue is whether the supremacy of parliament, the body of the people as the final check over the government, should be diminished, whether the parliament should surrender its role and its powers to one man over whom there would be no control under these proposals. The Party is firmly convinced that government should remain accountable to the people through parliament. That is the essence of parliamentary government. We accepted this when we became self-governing. The fact that hitherto parliament has not been effective as a check on government is not due to any weakness in the system, it is due to the PAP’s deliberately followed policy of reducing parliament to a rubberstamp of the government, by blocking the growth of any opposition in parliament.
Now that the PAP perceives that parliament may begin to play its rightful role with the emergence of an effective opposition, the PAP proposed to circumvent this by this plan to transfer parliament’s powers to the man they have already decided should become President. Under the proposals, the President will not only control our financial assets, he will be given powers over the appointment of Supreme Court judges and key personnel in the public service. The magnitude of this power cannot be exaggerated. The President can under these proposals thwart a government elected by the people from carrying out the mandate of the people. These are fundamental changes to how we govern ourselves, and if these changes are to be made, the people should be first asked in a referendum whether they agree to surrender their powers to one man over whom they would have no control once he is installed until his term is over. Remember, he is not accountable to parliament. What the proposals do is to lock the people out of what is theirs.
OPENING STATEMENTS BY SINGAPORE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
MOD: Mr Jeyaratnam, we must stop. Mr Chiam.
CHIAM SEE TONG (CST): Thank you, Mr Chairman. We must first crystallise the issue in this debate. The PAP is saying that we need an Elected President to safeguard our national reserves. To the SDP, safeguarding the reserves is not the issue. The issue of safeguarding our financial reserves is only a deception, a distraction, a diversion from the real issue, and that is the people of Singapore do not want an Elected President. This can easily be proven if the PAP dares to hold a national referendum. At this referendum, the question can squarely be put to the people of Singapore, quote, “Do you want an Elected President?” unquote. I know the majority of people of Singapore will say no to that question. A national referendum must be held as the issue of the Elected President is so vital to our political system. It concerns the survival of democracy and the survival of our parliamentary system as we know of it today. If the people of Singapore gives the PAP two-thirds majority at the polls, this will be the last time the people shall be voting under the parliamentary system as we know of it today. The real purpose of the PAP to introduce the Elected President is to deprive the people of Singapore effectively the one-man-one-vote system. Yes, the real purpose of installing an Elected President which has executive powers ultimately is to deprive the people of Singapore the one-man-one-vote system. The threat to the change to the one-man-one-vote system was made by the Prime Minister in the early morning hours of December 23rd 1984 after the last polling day. The people of Singapore must demand on a national referendum.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY PEOPLE’S ACTION PARTY
MOD: Well, we have the opening statements. Now it is time for challenging the statements and rebuttals.
LEE HSIEN LOONG (LHL): If I may direct my first question to Mr Chiam. Mr Chiam, do you recall that in parliament on August the 12th, Mr Goh Chok Tong spoke on the subject of the Elected President, and asked you to confirm that you are in favour of making changes to our system in order to ensure that our reserves not be depleted.
LHL: And you said yes.
CST: Yes, we agree that there should be.
LHL: You agree there should be checks.
CST: There should be checks. We should have hundred, a thousand Gurka troops if you want to take care of our reserves.
LHL: It’s that simple.
CST: Eventually, these Gurka troops instead of taking care of the reserves; they will be imprisoning the people of Singapore. That is why we are concerned.
LHL: That is why we don’t have Gurka troops. Are you suggesting that?
CST: Well, take another example. If the government without me asking put ten policemen in front of my house. They say, the PAP says that ten policemen is to guard me for my safety, but I say no, they are to put me under house arrest. That is why I object to an Elected President.
LHL: You agree that it is necessary to safeguard the reserves.
CST: That is not the issue at the moment. The main issue is whether or not we want to deprive Singapore of our parliamentary system.
LHL: Do you also agree to the need to safeguard the civil service?
CST: By all means, civil servants, reserves, they must be safeguarded.
LHL: They must be protected, and some changes have been made to do so.
CST: But these two are not the issues at the moment.
LHL: But you have conceded. This is the purpose of the proposal.
CST: We are saying that the purpose of the proposal is to have an Elected President with executive powers, eventually leading us to a fall of government which we do not want, maybe a dictatorship, and then our reserves will really be lost then.
LHL: Can you explain how it will be possible for the President to have executive powers when all he can do is to say no to the government spending money which has been accumulated by previous governments, not by itself? It can tax, it can spend, it can plan, it can implement. The President has no say, but only protect money accumulated by previous governments, including CPF money.
CST: We all know the proposal, but our innermost fear is that when the PAP is threatened in 1992, and you have the majority, you have two-thirds majority, who will stop you from amending the Constitution further to hand over more executive powers to the President, internal security, finance, defense?
LHL: You therefore concede that the proposal does not contain executive powers, because you are talking about a hypothetical situation which may or may not arise.
CST: No, Mr Lee. We are going to establish something in our society, in our country, which is going to be there for ages to come, and we don’t know who is going to abuse that system that you are going to establish. What the people of Singapore is worried is the powers that will eventually end up in the hands of one person.
LHL: What about the powers which are presently proposed to be given to the Elected President? Do they or do they not constitute executive powers?
CST: Of course they do.
LHL: They do, because he can say no.
LHL: You are aware that we have a Presidential Council for Minority Rights.
CST: Well, if they are given discretionary powers, I think they are, but they are not real safeguards.
LHL: You are aware that there is a Presidential Council for Minority Rights. CST: What has the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, up to date, what has it done?
LHL: You know that…
CST: As far as I know, there is nothing effective about it.
LHL: Mr Chiam, can you answer the question?
GCT: Are you aware or not aware that there is?
CST: Of course. There was a big debate in the 60s on it.
LHL: You know that the Presidential Council for Minority Rights vets all bills before they are sent to the President.
CST: Well, I read my papers, parliamentary papers. Yes, of course. LHL: Yes. It has custodial powers. It can say no to bills if it deems them discriminatory.
CST: Discriminatory only in regard to certain matters of affecting the community, the community at the moment.
LHL: Yes, yes, in the same way as the…
CST: If there is going to be racial problems or disrupting racial harmony in Singapore.
LHL: Yes, it has the power.
CST: Yes. LHL: It is not an elected body. Is it an executive body?
CST: We are talking about electing an…installation of an Elected President, and here you are, you are diverting the issue by saying that there should be a person to take care of our national reserves and appointing of our civil servants. These are only as I have said, perhaps you do not understand me, a distraction from the real issue. The real issue is that your government is going to install one person with executive powers, and you can please tell me whether or not there is any provisions to check parliament from further giving any more powers to the President.
GCT: Mr Chairman, Mr Chiam is being cross-examined. He should give the answer.
MOD: Yes, yes. Straight.
LHL: Is or is not the Presidential Council for Minority Rights an executive body? It has custodial powers. Does that make it an executive body?
CST: Well, there’s nothing…..
LHL: It doesn’t, so why not say so.
CST: It doesn’t say anything about, you know, stopping the use of reserves.
LHL: But it has powers. It can prevent parliament from passing bills, any bills.
CST: The Presidential Council for Minority Rights, its purpose is set up to ensure that no bills would disrupt our racial harmony in Singapore.
LHL: Correct, and the Elected President is set up to make sure that no bills or any other government measures would eat into reserves accumulated by previous governments. Specific purposes. Those are custodial powers, similar to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.
CST: No, they are not.
LHL: Does that make the Elected President an executive one?
CST: Yes, of course, as I have said so.
LHL: And the Presidential Council for Minority Rights is also an executive body?
CST: The fact that the President is able to stop the use of finance without….
MOD: Mr Chiam, I think we will get the debate going if you could answer his question directly, and then we can come back to your turn.
LHL: Are you opposed to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights which has custodial powers?
CST: Well, there is no necessity…
LHL: You do not oppose that.
CST: There is no necessity for the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. I was not in politics when it was formed.
LHL: You would get rid of it. Mr Jeyaratnam, you would surely agree with Mr Chiam that there is no need for such a Presidential Council or indeed any safeguards whatsoever to the system.
CST: So far, you…so far, there is no law which is passed in parliament which has been refused by Presidential Council except I know of one in which parliament overruled the Presidential Council in the GRC proposal, that is what has happened.
LHL: Is that true?
GCT: No, that’s not true.
CST: You have made laws that cut out the powers of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. That is what you have done.
MOD: That’s not the answer.
GCT: We haven’t heard the answer from Mr Chiam.
MOD: Do you want to respond, Mr Jeyaratnam?
JBJ: Was I asked a question?
LHL: Yes, you were asked a question. Do you agree with Mr Chiam that we should scrap the Presidential Council for Minority Rights and it has an executive function?
JBJ: I think there is a confusion of thought here. The Presidential Council for Minority Rights protects the minorities’ rights, their culture, and their, you know, way of life. Now, the Presidential Council for Minority Rights is not effective. Perhaps you have forgotten that parliament can override the presidential committee’s decision on any bill by itself passing the bill again with a two-thirds majority. Are you aware of that? So that the presidential committee is not effective. I, my Party, would like to see the presidential committee for minority rights made really effective.
LHL: But it has in no way diminished the standing of parliament, neither will the Elected President. Now let me ask you another question.
Mr Chiam, you say the Elected President denies people one-man-one-vote.
LHL: In America, they have one-man-one-vote?
LHL: They vote for a President?
CST: But their system is different.
LHL: They vote for a President?
LHL: Therefore, an Elected President does not in itself mean that one-man-one-vote is diminished.
CST: Yes, but we have a different system here.
LHL: Can you answer the question, Mr Chiam?
CST: Yes, what is it?
LHL: The question is, in America they vote for a President.
LHL: They also have one-man-one-vote.
CST: They have got an electoral system where they have other people to vote the President.
LHL: And they have democracy.
LHL: We will have an Elected President with powers far fewer than the American President. We will have one-man-one-vote too.
CST: Effectively no, in time to come.
LHL: Why does that follow?
CST: Because if you have two-thirds in parliament, and when there is a threat to overthrowing you, as stated by the Prime Minister in 1984, then you will amend the Constitution…
LHL: Mr Chiam, if we have wanted to amend the Constitution…
CST: …to give more powers to the President and that will be the end of one-man-one-vote.
LHL: If we had wanted to amend the Constitution, why do you think we did not do so before the general election?
LHL: We have the majority. You campaigned on this issue in 1984 if you will remember. You failed.
CST: No, we were against the Elected President.
LHL: Yes, and you failed. If I may quote you, in your first election rally, you said, “If the PAP is returned again, parliamentary and democratic government here will be changed to a presidential system in which power will rest with a few or one person.” We have not done that.
CST: Yes, I still stand by it.
LHL: Have we done that?
CST: Because the time has not come yet. Once it comes, you will do it, your government will do it.
LHL: Why do you think we have not done so all these years? Since 1966, there was no Opposition in parliament until ‘81 when Mr Jeyaratnam was elected, and then in ’84, you were elected, and in ‘86 Mr Jeyaratnam was disqualified, and you were alone again. All these years, we have never passed any bill, or amended any constitutional provision, without full debate, discussion, and public explanation. Why do you think we want to do so now?
CST: Because at the moment you don’t perceive the threat. Once the threat is there, I believe, unless you give us assurances, you will go ahead to amend the Constitution to hand further powers above those proposals.
LHL: If the threat is there, Mr Chiam, it will be too late for us to do anything, would it not?
CST: No, you can amend the Constitution in one hour on a certificate….in one afternoon, on a certificate of emergency, three readings, one, two, three.
LHL: Which could be done without an Elected President.
CST: No, you must have an Elected President first.
LHL: No, why? We can have the three readings without the Elected President?
CST: Well, you would not have the moral authority…
LHL: (Loud laughter)
CST: You would not dare to. That is the only reason why you want to go for election.
LHL: So without the Elected President, we would not dare, with, we would. It’s that simple. Can I ask you one last question? Do you understand the President’s powers to restrict spending is only on old money, not new money?
CST: Well, that is a very difficult issue…
LHL: You understand that.
CST: Because even Dr Toh himself says that it is difficult to determine what is old money and new money.
LHL: Mr Chiam, we are not debating Dr Toh here. Do you understand that?
CST: We understand…
LHL: Why do you object to restrictions on spending old money?
MOD: I think we should move on to Mr JB Jeyaratnam now. It’s your turn to ask the questions.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY WORKERS’ PARTY
JBJ: Thank you, Mr Chairman. We’ve been told that this plan was first mooted in 1984.
JBJ: ’82. Alright.
GCT: ’84, publicly.
JBJ: Pray why in 1982, and not before? Was it because the 31st of October saw an Opposition member in parliament?
LHL: Mr Jeyaratnam, you flatter yourself. In 1972, the Constitution was amended to prevent sovereignty from being surrendered.
JBJ: Will Brigadier-General Lee answer the question?
LHL: Because you ran the line, in 1982….
JBJ: Mr Chairman, will Brigadier-General Lee answer the question?
LHL: In 1982,…
JBJ: Why in ‘82?
LHL: Because by 1982, a sufficiently large amount of reserves had been built up, that we were worried for Singaporeans that should something happen, their savings would not be protected, before that there was no money.
JBJ: Was there a large jump in the reserves from ’81 to ’82?
LHL: These are cumulative…
JBJ: Please answer the question.
LHL: The PAP…
JBJ: Was there a large, a big jump in the reserves?
LHL: The reserves have been building up year by year because we have never touched them.
JBJ: But why, before ’82, this plan was never hatched up?
LHL: Why should we not?
JBJ: But why, I’d like to know. Would you please answer that question?
GCT: Mr Chairman, there’s always a time to introduce certain amendments. This was discussed first in 1982. Mr Jeyaratnam would like to think that this was prompted by his victory in Anson.
JBJ: Well, that’s not what I think, Mr Goh. That’s what the public in Singapore think. That’s so plain to everybody. May I move on to the next question? Do not these proposals make a radical change to the parliamentary system?
LHL: Yes, they make a radical change to our Constitution.
JBJ: Thank you, and let’s move on to the next question.
LHL: And that’s why they have fully discussed and are being presented for the population to decide upon them in the election.
JBJ: May I make the next question? You agree that they make a radical change. If you look at your White Paper, you say there should not be any radical change, but now you admit there’s going to be a radical change. Why don’t you go to the people on this radical change?
LHL: As Mr Goh has explained, we will take it step by step. First, a White Paper, debated, explained. Second, major general election issue. We didn’t have to do that, but we have chosen to make it a general election issue. You notice, Mr Jeyaratnam, that in your paper, Towards a Caring Society, you have made no mention of the Elected President, have you?
JBJ: But you don’t answer my question.
JBJ: You have admitted that this makes a radical change and this is my Party’s stand, it is going to reduce the role and powers of parliament further
LHL: Can I ask where in your programme you have covered this subject?
JBJ: Please don’t evade my question. We are here to debate this issue, not what appeared and what not appeared in the Hammer.
LHL: You are presenting this as a fundamental issue of momentous significance. We agree… JBJ: It is. It is. LHL: Well, where is it in your programme?
JBJ: Brigadier-General Lee, will you please answer my question?
LHL: Where was it…
JBJ: And not try and, you know, evade the issue by saying, oh, you didn’t raise this before.
LHL: Did you raise it?
JBJ: I’m raising it now.
LHL: Did you raise it in the Party’s political broadcast on Sunday?
JBJ: Now, next question for you, Brigadier-General Lee or Mr Goh Chok Tong. Under these proposals, where is the check on the President? Where is the check on the President, can you tell me?
GCT: Well, the President does not have the power to initiate any policies. He cannot, on his own, change any policies. That lies with the government.
JBJ: I’m not asking you about initiating policies.
GCT: I have not yet completed my answer….
JBJ: Where is the check on the President’s use of his powers?
GCT: The President does not initiate any policies. It is the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that do so. The President can decide to say no to certain proposals of the government. Your question is where is the President checked?
JBJ: Where is the check on the President?
GCT: Right. Hence, the need to have an Elected President. The check is with the people. If the President does not do a good job, the people will throw him out very quickly.
JBJ: Well, have you seen your proposals on how to throw the President out? They are very cumbersome and tortuous. Have you seen that?
GCT: The President has got to go before the people every six years.
JBJ: And yet you take the line that it is cumbersome to go to the people now, at this precise moment.
LHL: Mr Jeyaratnam, we have not said that. You have not listened to Mr Goh’s opening statement.
JBJ: I have listened.
LHL: What we said was, first, debate it in the general election. Then, introduce a bill in parliament. Then, have a select committee hearing. You may present your proposals, alternative views, objections. And if at that point, after all the debate, there is still a need for a referendum, we will do so.
JBJ: May I come back to my question?
MOD: Your colleague, JB, also wants to raise a point.
JBJ: May I come back to this question? Do you agree that the President is not accountable to parliament? He cannot be made to answer to parliament if he decides not to allow the government to spend any reserves or he blocks the appointment of any civil servant. Do you accept that?
GCT: The President is accountable to the people, and..
JBJ: The question is, is he accountable to parliament? Please.
GCT: He is accountable to the people.
JBJ: You don’t answer my question, Mr Goh. Where does he say that he can be summoned to parliament to answer these questions?
MOD: Well, his reply is he is accountable to the people.
JBJ: Doesn’t that diminish the supremacy of parliament? Does it not?
LHL: Mr Jeyaratnam, you’re dying to lord it over the people, aren’t you?
JBJ: Parliament is the people’s body. I’m not lording it over them. I’m defending the people’s rights. Parliament stands for the people.
CROSS EXAMINATION BY SINGAPORE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
MOD: Well, we have now run out of time. But it is the moderator’s time, and Mr Chiam had a question. If it’s a quick question, I’ll allow it.
CST: I have the other half of the questioning to do. You have agreed on that.
MOD: No. No, it…
CST: Yes, yes, Mr Goh has to give me six minutes as well.
MOD: Sorry, I beg your pardon.
CST: Can I start now?
MOD: Yes, please.
CST: Now, Mr Goh. You are going to be the next Prime Minister of Singapore. Can I put this question to you? Do you agree that there should be a national referendum on this question of Elected President?
GCT: No, my position is very clear. I don’t believe in going to the people on every issue. You can’t govern through a referendum.
CST: No, this is not every issue, Mr Goh.
GCT: Let me finish. You can’t govern through a referendum. I’ve stated my position very clearly. If after all this discussion, first this debate in this studio, debate outside this studio before the people, select committee after the bill has been tabled in parliament, and you, I and everybody agrees that there’s no consensus on this important issue, I’m prepared to refer this subject to the people for a referendum.
CST: No, as a matter of principle, let’s take aside all this talk about consensus. Do you agree on principle that this is a very important issue, as important as dismantling our armed forces, as important as giving up our sovereignty, because we are going to give up our parliamentary system. Do you agree on this issue, in principle, that we require a referendum.
GCT: No. It is not on the same genre as selling your sovereignty to other countries.
CST: Thank you. Alright, Mr Goh. Now, assuming that you go with what you’ve just said, that there is no national referendum on this question, and you have two-thirds majority in parliament, do you agree to give an assurance to the people of Singapore that no more executive powers will be handed over to the Elected President unless you go back to the people on a national referendum to get the permission to do so?
GCT: Now, we have stated this very clearly….
LHL: This proposal is to safeguard money….
CST: I’m asking Mr Goh please, not Mr Lee.
LHL: Mr Chiam, we speak together. This proposal is to safeguard money. We have said that there would be no amendments not related to this money and key people, because key people are related to money. No clearer undertaking is possible. There are no other components to this. The PAP lays its cards on the table. We do not even have to open this subject. We have presented it because we want to debate it.
CST: I have only three minutes. Can you please answer the question yes or no? The question is if you have two-thirds majority in parliament…
LHL: We have no intention of making any further amendments.
CST: Alright, so you would be willing to go to the people on a national referendum should you require further powers given…
LHL: We will proceed the way we have always done with full public discussion on any issue. But this is purely hypothetical. We have no intention.
CST: The question is do you agree to go to the people?
LHL: Mr Chiam, there is no proposal. We are not intending to do any such thing. You are raising a hypothetical question…
CST: No, it is not hypothetical. You are thinking of 100 years ahead. We are only thinking of, maybe, four years ahead. Assuming that you have got problems, you are going to lose the election, are you going to pass more powers to the President without going to people on a national referendum?
GCT: The answer is a simple one…
CST: Yes or no.
GCT: And I repeat my point. We don’t believe in government-through-referendum. And we will proceed with any changes in accordance with the way we have governed Singapore all the time.
CST: So your answer is no.
GCT: No, there must be full public discussion first. The answer is not a no or yes. There will be a full public discussion…
CST: Don’t evade the question, Mr Goh. Yes or no. You are not willing to go on a national referendum if the government sees a need to hand more powers to the President.
GCT: No, you are assuming that we see the need to hand more powers to the President. We have put up a very clear proposal that we are only interested in these two areas.
CST: So I take it that you are not willing. Your answer is no. You are not going to go on national referendum in case you are going to give…
GCT: We are not contemplating of introducing any other areas for the President.
LHL: There’s no proposal. We’re not intending to do anything.
CST: We are talking of a system if the need arises.
LHL: We are talking about the Elected President.
GCT: Mr Chairman, we are discussing the Elected President proposal as it is. Mr Chiam is asking us a question on what we will do. It’s all in the White Paper.
MOD: Mr Chiam, in the opening statement, Mr Goh made the statement that if as a last resort, if all other issue…
CST: Alright, I go to the next question…
MOD: Let me finish, Mr Chiam. If all other options are exhausted, then the last resort would be they would be prepared to go for a referendum as a last resort if the need arises.
CST: Now, on the first question, he said no. I’m not going to the second question. Mr Moderator, now I go on to the next one. I presume your answer to the second question is no. Now, we come to the general elections, we are in the midst of the general elections. Now, what is the purpose of the general elections?
GCT: Very simple. First, to present our programme to the people, to get a mandate from the people.
CST: To elect a new government, isn’t it?
CST: Correct. Now what is the purpose of my standing at Potong Pasir?
LHL: You have to answer that.
GCT: I’m amazed. I don’t know what’s the purpose.
CST: So the purpose is not to decide on the issue of the Elected President, is that not correct?
GCT: The purpose of a general election is to decide on whose programme you’re going to accept for the next five years, and…
CST: But the purpose of this general election is not to give a mandate to the government to change the Constitution.
GCT: It is part of our programme, and we’re putting it before the people to decide.
MOD: Well, gentlemen, it’s time for your cross-examinations, but if I may just come back to where we started. Let me get one thing straight on the part of the People’s Action Party. That in proposing the Elected President and the safeguarding of the accumulated reserves and the integrity of the public service, you’re not talking in terms of either hindering the proper functioning of government or dismantling anything or working out to detract in manner from the people’s rights or the normal concerns of a democracy. What you’re really concerned about is how to prevent the squandering of hard-earned reserves by putting in a check, checks and balances to be provided by an Elected President of proven worth and integrity. Is that what the main thrust?
JBJ: Mr Moderator, if I may say, you are putting the case for the government. You are putting the case for the government.
MOD: No, I’m not. I’m coming to you now. And I’m going to ask you that is the case for the Opposition that the Opposition is not opposing the principle but you are concerned about the manner in which it is being implemented and the impact that this is going to have for the very fundamentals that you are concerned.
JBJ: I thought I made that clear in my speech. We are concerned with the further erosion of parliament’s role and its effectiveness. The Party believes that parliament and parliament alone should have the final say over what happens in this country. Now, under the proposals the President can thwart the elected mandate of the people by stopping appointments, preventing use of assets. He’s got great powers under these proposals which is not realised by the government, or they do realise it, they are disguising it.
MOD: Mr Chiam.
CST: Thank you Mr Chairman. Our stand is that the people of Singapore do not want an Elected President, and if you want an Elected President, there must be a national referendum, otherwise the will of the people will be subverted. That is our position. We are demanding that there must be a national referendum on this very vital issue.
MOD: Thank you. Do you want to add anything before I move to closing statements?
LHL: I would just like to ask the Opposition why they are against having two keys on the reserves. All these years the PAP has never found it necessary to do what the Elected President is elected to prevent namely touch the reserves in order to spend them. We have never had to do that because we always run prudent financial management. We’re now trying to put a safeguard.
JBJ: May I answer that?
MOD: Quickly. JBJ: Well, he’s taken a minute or more. Alright, but I say give that other key to the people, and that is the key should be given to parliament, and I will outline in my closing statement how I think the parliament can hold that key.
LHL: The President is elected by the people.
JBJ: But the President is not accountable to parliament.
MOD: Right gentlemen, we are really going to run out of time. And now I think you will have your last chance to say really what you consider to be fundamental. I’ll start with BG Lee on behalf of the PAP.
LHL: I think it should be the other way, Mr Chiam.
MOD: Sorry, I beg your pardon. We will start with Mr Jeyaratnam.
JBJ: No, Mr Chiam first.
MOD: Ok, sorry. Oh, you’re going to follow this order.
JBJ: That was how it was arranged.
MOD: Sorry. Mr Chiam to start off with, then Mr Jeyaratnam, and then the closing statement by BG Lee.
CLOSING STATEMENTS BY SINGAPORE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
CST: Thank you Mr Chairman. I said that the purpose of the Elected President is to deprive the people of Singapore the one-man-one-vote system. Now I think it’s significant to quote from the Straits Times of 23rd December ’84, what the Prime Minister said, “Asked what alternative there were to the system, he said,” ‘he’ meaning the Prime Minister said, “he was thinking of modifications to make sure the excesses were not carried too far.” I interpret the word ‘excesses’ as being the 12.6% vote swing to the opposition in the 1984 general elections.
Now, the Prime Minister is an experienced man, and he knows that once this swing starts, the momentum will be there and if it goes to the ultimate conclusion, the PAP will lose power. In fact, that is what he said, “It is necessary to try and put some safeguards into the way in which people use their votes to bargain, to coerce, to push, to jostle, to get what they want without running the risk of losing services of the government because one day, by mistake, they will lose the services of the government.” He said, “Suppose there had been another 14% shift in votes, the combined opposition would have captured forty seats, and the PAP 39.” Mr Lee then went on to describe the mood of the voters as groping out for something which they thought was better for them. To those voters, he had this to say, “By all means, reach out. But know the price, this is going to lead to some brinkmanship, not in 1988 maybe, but if we go along this road, it must unravel” meaning PAP government will be unseated. “Is it going to be 1992?,” The Prime Minister asked, “When the PAP is going to lose at the polls.” There you were, those were the innermost fears of the PM when he expressed those words.
Now, you would notice that it is very significant. He was concerned purely whether or not the PAP government was going to be unseated. There was no mention about the preservation of our financial reserves. There was only utterances of fear on the part of PAP losing power. By all means, we have safeguards. Like I’ve said, you have hundred, 200 hundred Gurka troops to guard our reserves. But what the people of Singapore are worried is that these Gurka troops instead of guarding the reserves, is going to imprison them. That is the fear. You give powers to one person, and eventually, instead of using it just to keep our reserves, it can be used against us.
CLOSING STATEMENTS BY WORKERS’ PARTY
MOD: Mr JB Jeyaratnam.
JBJ: Thank you, Mr Moderator. This issue, or these proposals rather have been put forward on a fallacious assumption that only the PAP contains within its ranks honest men, and slanderous statements made of the opposition parties that they’re all crooks. I resent that very strongly and it’s not worthy of the PAP to make that statement, shows the kind of people we’re dealing with.
I’m surprised that I have not been asked what the Workers’ Party’s alternative proposal is, and I will now tell you. A much better safeguard would be to require the government to get the unanimous vote in parliament before it begins to use in parliament before it begins to use any of the foreign reserves or the assets. In that way, the government will have to come to parliament, explain its proposals, why it needs the money, and the whole thing will be debated, and if parliament, the government party and the opposition object to this and reject it, then the Prime Minister can advice the President if he thinks that he has to have access to the reserves to dissolve parliament and to call for elections and go to the people. That seems to me to be a much more effective safeguard of our reserves than to give it to the President. As I’ve pointed out, the President under these proposals cannot be summoned to parliament. He cannot be asked to explain why he has made any decision about the reserves or over the appointments. Contrast this to the United States, the President there can be checked by Congress. Every key appointment that he makes must be approved by the legislative bodies. And if Congress doesn’t approve of any decision, it can withhold the supply of money from the President from implementing it. It seems to me, to the Party, that the PAP is fraudulent in its reasoning and its attempting to perpetuate this PAP hold over Singapore by introducing these proposals which are purely designed to pass from a parliamentary government to a dictatorship. Thank you, Mr Moderator.
CLOSING STATEMENTS BY PEOPLE’S ACTION PARTY
MOD: BG Lee.
LHL: Mr Chairman. The PAP has deliberately made the Elected President a key issue in this general election. Otherwise, we will not be here today. We seek the people’s mandate to implement the proposal. Our purpose is very simple: safeguard CPF savings, prevent an unscrupulous government from squandering them without telling you or consulting you. The Elected President will stand guard over these reserves and should they be in any danger, he will sound the alarm. The Opposition are against having a guard or an alarm. You must ask yourselves why.
The Elected President will also have to consent to key appointments in the civil service, because otherwise his powers to protect the reserves can be circumvented. You just put the wrong man in, he will do the job surreptitiously for a crooked government. The Opposition says there’s no need to do anything, all is well. They say that this is a way for Mr Lee, the Prime Minister, to hold on after he has stepped down as PM. They say this will lead to an executive president, and water down our one-man-one-vote system. They are wrong.
First, Mr Chiam and I think also Mr Jeyaratnam have already admitted that there is a need to do something to safeguard our reserves and to uphold the integrity of our public service. So it’s not a difference of principle. It’s only a question of how it should be done.
Secondly, Mr Lee is not interested in this job. He doesn’t want the job. Why should he? He’s already said he doesn’t want to and we have held him back from saying so publicly. And in any case, as he has explained, if he wanted to hold on to power, this is not the way to do it. All he has to do is to be Secretary-General of the Party, and that would be enough.
Thirdly, the Elected President’s powers are purely custodial. He cannot do anything. He can only say no. And they are only restricted to two areas: key personnel and money. He cannot extend his influence to other areas. Even Mr Chiam has no objections to these two proposals. His fear is this will lead to horrendous consequences. Totally unfounded, of course. But even as it stands, he has no objection to the intrinsic powers which will be given to the President. And one-man-one-vote will be quite unaffected. In America, they vote a President. It’s one-man-one-vote. In France, they have a President and Prime Minister, it’s one-man-one-vote. And in Singapore too, nothing would have changed.
Now, we must ask ourselves why the Opposition opposes a two-key system. The PAP has never had to touch the reserves all these years. Is the Opposition intending to touch them as soon as they come into power? Why oppose? If they oppose, what is their alternative? Mr Chiam has sketched none. Mr Jeyaratnam’s alternative is a unanimous vote in parliament. What that means is that if Mr Jeyaratnam or Mr Chiam are the two Opposition members in parliament, they will effectively be the Elected President, because they would have complete veto powers in one constituency on the basis of Potong Pasir.
JBJ: But the Prime Minister can then go to the country.
LHL: So the proposal has been invented on the spur of the moment, and we have yet to hear one from the SDP.
CST: That is not an issue.
LHL: That is an issue, because the SDP, if it is against this proposal in practice, but not in principle, then it is your responsibility to produce an alternative possibility. Now the opposition is asking the electorate to deny the PAP a two-thirds majority, as if except for this majority, the Elected President would be imposed on people The PAP has had more than a two-thirds majority for more than 20 years. We have never abused it. Why do we need to do so now? A referendum? Well, if need be, we will have a referendum. Let us go through the whole process first. Argue, debate, vote in elections. Second reading in parliament, select committee and then if there’s still fundamental objection, we will hold a referendum, and it will be properly entrenched and the votes will be produced. The question is not whether the PAP has a monopoly on virtue, we don’t claim that.
JBJ: Don’t you?
LHL: The question is how can we make sure that whoever governs Singapore is a good government. Never mind whether he’s a PAP one or an Opposition one. Mr Jeyaratnam takes umbrage at some of the things which have been said about the Opposition candidates but none of them are untrue.
JBJ: What about the PAP Ministers?
LHL: The concern is how do we make sure that whoever is in charge, your money is protected. So think carefully, decide whether you want your money protected, that is what the PAP wants to do. And vote according to your decision on Saturday.
MOD: Thank you. Well, gentlemen, I’m afraid we have run out of time. I wish we had more time listening to the arguments.
JBJ: Thank you, Mr Moderator. That’s what I’ve been asking for.
MOD: But that’s what we have. And we must bring this debate to a close. In doing so, it remains for me to say how grateful I and the organisers are for your participation. Thank you. Thank you.