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The History of Singapore Presidency

The History of Singapore Presidency

The history of the Singaporean presidency is a fascinating journey that has evolved over the years since Singapore gained independence in 1965. The role of the President in Singapore is largely ceremonial, but it holds certain significant powers to safeguard the nation’s financial reserves and key appointments in the public sector. Let’s take a detailed look at the development of the Singaporean presidency:

Pre-1965: British Colonial Rule

Before 1965, Singapore was a British colony. The island was part of the Straits Settlements and later the Malayan Union and the Federation of Malaya. During this period, there was no local executive head of state, as the British monarch served as the ceremonial figurehead.

1965: Independence and the Yang di-Pertuan Negara

On August 9, 1965, Singapore gained independence from Malaysia and became a sovereign nation. The first head of state was the Yang di-Pertuan Negara (translated as “Head of State” in Malay), and the position was held by Yusof bin Ishak. He served as the ceremonial President from 1965 until his passing in 1970.

1970: Introduction of Elected President

In 1970, Singapore amended its Constitution to introduce the elected presidency. Under this new system, the President was elected by Members of Parliament (MPs) rather than being appointed. The primary function of the President at this stage was to serve as a unifying figure and a symbol of the nation’s unity.

1991: Further Changes to the Elected Presidency

In 1991, further amendments were made to the Constitution to strengthen the role of the elected President. The key changes included the introduction of presidential elections by popular vote, giving citizens the opportunity to directly elect their President.

1993: First Elected President

In 1993, Singapore held its first presidential election, and Ong Teng Cheong was elected as the nation’s first popularly-elected President. His presidency marked a significant step towards a more independent and prominent role for the office.

2004: Reserved Elections for Ethnic Groups

In 2004, constitutional amendments were made to ensure multiracial representation in the presidency. The election process was adjusted to ensure that if there had not been a President from a particular ethnic group for the previous five terms, the next presidential election would be reserved for candidates of that specific ethnicity. This move aimed to foster racial harmony and equal representation.

2011: President’s Custodial Powers

In 2011, the Constitution was amended to expand the President’s custodial powers significantly. The President was given the authority to veto the withdrawal of Singapore’s past reserves, including its financial reserves and land, by the government. This was to ensure responsible fiscal management and protect the country’s financial stability.

2017: Reserved Election for Malay Community

In 2017, the reserved election mechanism came into play when President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s term ended. As there had not been a Malay President for several terms, the 2017 presidential election was reserved for Malay candidates only. Halimah Yacob, a former Speaker of Parliament, became the first female President of Singapore and the first Malay President in over 47 years.

Current Role of the President

The President of Singapore continues to play a ceremonial and symbolic role, representing the unity of the nation. Additionally, the President exercises custodial powers to safeguard the country’s reserves and approve certain public sector appointments. However, these powers are subject to the advice of the Council of Presidential Advisers, which is a group of appointed individuals who provide counsel to the President.

Here is a detailed list of Singapore’s Presidents, including their terms of office:

Yusof bin Ishak

  • Term: December 3, 1959, to November 23, 1970
  • Notes: Yusof bin Ishak was the first President of Singapore, serving as the Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State) from 1965 until his passing in 1970. He held a ceremonial role during the early years of Singapore’s independence.

Benjamin Henry Sheares

  • Term: January 2, 1971, to May 12, 1981
  • Notes: Benjamin Sheares became Singapore’s second President after Yusof bin Ishak. He was elected unopposed and served two terms in office.

Devan Nair

  • Term: October 23, 1981, to March 28, 1985
  • Notes: Devan Nair, a former trade unionist, was elected as Singapore’s third President. He resigned from office citing personal reasons, making him the first President to do so.

Wee Kim Wee

  • Term: August 30, 1985, to August 31, 1993
  • Notes: Wee Kim Wee was the fourth President of Singapore and the first to be elected by popular vote. He had previously served as a diplomat and journalist.

Ong Teng Cheong

  • Term: September 1, 1993, to August 31, 1999
  • Notes: Ong Teng Cheong became Singapore’s first President to be directly elected by the citizens through a popular vote. He was a former Deputy Prime Minister and held the office for one term.

S.R. Nathan

  • Term: September 1, 1999, to August 31, 2011
  • Notes: S.R. Nathan, a former diplomat and civil servant, served as Singapore’s sixth President for two terms.

Tony Tan Keng Yam

  • Term: September 1, 2011, to August 31, 2017
  • Notes: Tony Tan Keng Yam was a former Deputy Prime Minister and the seventh President of Singapore. He was elected to office through a hotly contested presidential election.

Halimah Yacob

  • Term: September 14, 2017, to present
  • Notes: Halimah Yacob became Singapore’s eighth President and the first female President of the nation. Her election was a reserved election for candidates from the Malay community.

Here is a detailed list of Singapore’s Prime Ministers, including their terms of office:

Lee Kuan Yew

  • Term: June 5, 1959, to November 28, 1990
  • Notes: Lee Kuan Yew was the first Prime Minister of Singapore and one of the key founding leaders of the nation. He played a pivotal role in leading Singapore to independence and shaping its development as a modern city-state.

Goh Chok Tong

  • Term: November 28, 1990, to August 12, 2004
  • Notes: Goh Chok Tong succeeded Lee Kuan Yew as the second Prime Minister of Singapore. He continued the policies of his predecessor and oversaw significant economic growth and social development during his tenure.

Lee Hsien Loong

  • Term: August 12, 2004, to present
  • Notes: Lee Hsien Loong is the third and current Prime Minister of Singapore. He is the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew and has been actively involved in Singaporean politics for several decades. Under his leadership, Singapore continued to advance in various fields, including technology, education, and healthcare.

It’s important to note that the term of office for the President of Singapore is six years. The President is eligible for re-election for a second term but cannot serve more than two terms in total.

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