During the Parliament sitting on 27 January 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Elected Presidency scheme would be reviewed to provide for different ethnic minority Presidents from time to time.
In the following month, a Constitutional Commission comprising judges and civil servants was set up to hear suggestions from members of the public on how the scheme can be refined. Among the submitted proposals, 19 were invited to hearings between April and May 2016 to present them, including former PAP minister S. Dhanabalan, lawyers, academics, a women's group, a human rights group, university students and the main opposition WP. WP declined to attend a hearing with the intention to debate the subject in Parliament and later proposed a Senate to safeguard the reserves while reverting the office of the President to a ceremonial one.
On 17 August 2016, the Commission submitted its final recommendations in a report to PM Lee, which was made public on 7 September 2016. Most of them were accepted by the PAP government. The most important recommendation was that a Presidential Election would be reserved for candidates from a particular ethnic community if there had been none from the community after five election terms. At the advice of the Attorney-General to begin counting the terms from the late former President Wee Kim Wee who was first to wield the power of an Elected President, this PE became reserved for Malay candidates.
Another major change was that private sector candidates now had to hold the most senior executive position in their company instead of simply being a chairman or chief executive, with the company requiring a shareholders' equity of at least $500 million and a track record of profitability instead of the previous criteria of $100 million paid-up capital. Nonetheless, the Presidential Elections Committee still held the power to grant eligibility in exceptions where it deemed that the person was fit to carry out the duties of a President. The PEC and Community Committee would have up to ten days to assess applicants. Also, it became mandatory for the President to consult the Council of Presidential Advisors on matters relating to reserves and public service appointments.
These amendments, tabled in a White Paper, were passed by the PAP-dominated Parliament on 6 February 2017. Interestingly, acting outside its terms of reference, the Commission had slipped in its proposal to abolish the Elected Presidency scheme and revert to a ceremonial President due to the divisive nature of elections for a figure meant to bring about national unity. The government cited new campaigining rules that discouraged electioneering and politicking to allieviate this concern.
The new requirements ruled President Tony Tan and his three rivals in the previous PE out of the running. Before the changes were official, President Tan announced on 8 November 2016 that he would step down at the end of his term. As the traditional election month was pushed from August, which clashed with National Day celebrations, to September and President Tan's last day was on 31 August 2017, CPA chairman J. Y. Pillay became Interim President.
Supporters of former PAP Member of Parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock, one of the three losing candidates who came closest to winning, felt that the changes were aimed to keep him out of the polls. Dr Tan unsuccessfully mounted a challenge in court against starting the count from ex-President Wee instead of the first Elected President Ong Teng Cheong. WP also raised the issue in Parliament but was directed to the courts before Dr Tan did so, while its second attempt to file an adjournment motion after the court verdict was overridden by another motion through ballot.
A day before applications for a Certificate of Eligibility were opened on 1 June 2017, chief executive officer Mohamed Salleh Marican expressed his intention to stand. The company he founded made history 20 years ago by being the first Malay-owned enterprise to be publicly listed. On 11 July 2017, Farid Khan Kaim Khan, chairman of a French-based marine sector company, launched his campaign with the slogan "Together We Build Our Nation". However, the companies of both men did not meet the shareholders' equity yardstick. Other prominent Malays who ruled themselves out included current and former ministers Yaacob Ibrahim and Abdullah Tarmugi respectively and two Malay CPA members.
The PAP-endorsed candidate had widely been speculated to be Mdm Halimah Yacob, who took over Michael Palmer as Speaker of Parliament after his resignation that precipated the Punggol East by-election in 2013. This panned out when she announced her intention on 16 July 2017 and resigned from her post, seat in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC and PAP on 7 August 2017, two days before National Day. On 29 August 2017, she unveiled her campaign theme "Do Good Do Together". By the close of applications five days after issuance of the writ, five forms were received, the other two being election perennials Sherwin Eu and Ooi Boon Ewe, which were not considered as they did not declare they were of Malay ethnicity.
Two days before nominations, only one COE was issued to Mdm Halimah, the sole candidate with automatic qualification in lieu of having been Speaker for more than four years, paving way for her to become Singapore's eighth, first female and first Malay President since Yusof Ishak. On the same day, PAP minister Tan Chuan Jin, who was designated to replace her as Speaker, was sworn in. Being the third out of five Presidential Elections without contest, the polling date set on 23 September 2017 did not take place.
|Writ of election:
28 August 2017, Monday
13 September 2017, Wednesday
14 September 2017, Thursday