1. The Escalating Threshold of Presidential Eligibility
Over the last 30 years, Singapore has repeatedly tightened the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates—a move that has generated significant public debate. In the latest 2017 revisions, candidates hailing from the private sector must now have served as the top executive in a company boasting at least S$500 million in shareholder equity, a substantial hike from the prior requirement of S$100 million in paid-up capital.
Has the bar been set unnecessarily and unrealistically high for presidential hopefuls?
While the government contends that about 50 public service positions and more than 1,200 companies meet these criteria, the real-world implications are far more restrictive. Finding a candidate who possesses both the requisite financial stewardship and the unifying spirit that the role of president demands has proven to be an elusive endeavour.
And the disqualification of George Goh, a broadly popular figure, only fuels scepticism that these ever-narrowing criteria serve more to sideline formidable challengers to the establishment than to ensure qualified leadership.
The Case of George Goh: A Litmus Test for Eligibility Standards
Based on the letter of the law, the Presidential Elections Committee’s (PEC) disqualification of George Goh was technically defensible. However, legal experts, including Associate Professor Kelvin Tan and George Goh’s own legal team have also offered perspectives on his eligibility which differed from the PEC’s assessment.
There’s a broader issue at play though: Should managing a single mammoth organization be the litmus test for presidential fitness? The paid-up capital criterion was originally intended as a proxy for fiscal responsibility, not as an inflexible yardstick to measure one’s suitability for managing national budgets.
Moreover, the committee’s rationale—that leading one large enterprise differs significantly from helming multiple smaller ones—seems somewhat myopic. After all, wouldn’t overseeing a portfolio of five companies with collective shareholder equity of S$1.5bn demonstrate a well-rounded understanding of financial complexities, arguably more so than running a single large organization?
Further, critics have questioned the unelected PEC’s discretion in dictating the electoral choices available to the public.
The sentiment from the ground seems to indicate an earnest desire to have a more decentralised distribution of power so that the choices available to the public are seen as free from filtering by a group of unelected bureaucrats.
The Political Undercurrent of Discontent
As Singapore grapples with burgeoning calls for political accountability, the disqualification of George Goh risks cementing public perception of institutional bias. Will Goh’s case be immortalized alongside other would-be challengers like Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Farid Khan, and Mohamed Salleh Marican, who have previously run for office?
More importantly, could the disqualification of capable candidates further intensify the belief that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is revisiting the old guard’s suppressive tactics against political rivals and cause the public’s dissatisfaction to spill over onto the upcoming General Elections? These are pressing questions that require contemplation, in a politically charged era.
If the aim of tightening eligibility criteria was to safeguard the nation’s highest office, the move could paradoxically risk undermining the very democratic principles it seeks to uphold.