President of Singapore

The President of the Republic of Singapore is the country's head of state. Singapore has a parliamentary system of government. The president is nominally vested with executive authority, but in practice that authority is exercised by the Cabinet led by the Prime Minister of Singapore. The current president is Halimah Yacob, who was elected unopposed at the 2017 presidential election. She is the first female president of Singapore and first Malay head of state in 47 years since the death of Yusof Ishak, Singapore's first president.
The national constitution sets strict eligibility conditions for the presidency. Before 1993, the president was chosen by the Parliament of Singapore. As a result of constitutional amendments passed in 1991, the presidency became a popularly elected office with certain custodial powers, particularly over government expenditure and key appointments to public offices. Wee Kim Wee was the first president to exercise custodial powers pursuant to the constitutional amendments of 1991. The first president elected by popular vote was Ong Teng Cheong, who served from 1993 to 1999. Singapore's longest-serving president was S.R. Nathan who served 1999 to 2011 and the only living former president was Tony Tan who served in 2011. In 2016, further amendments were passed providing for "reserved elections" for a particular community, if that community has not provided a president in the past five presidential terms.


The office of president was created in 1965 after Singapore became a republic upon its secession from the Federation of Malaysia that year. It replaced the office of Yang di-Pertuan Negara, which had been created when Singapore attained self-government in 1959. The last Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Yusof Ishak, became the first president. After his death he was replaced by Benjamin Sheares, who served until his death in 1981, when he was succeeded by Chengara Veetil Devan Nair. Owing to personal problems, Nair stepped down in 1985 and was replaced by Wee Kim Wee, who served as president until 1993.
In January 1991, the Constitution was amended to provide for the popular election of the president, a major constitutional and political change in Singapore's history. Under the revision, the president is empowered to veto the use of the country's past reserves and key civil service appointments. The president can also examine the administration's enforcement of the Internal Security Act and Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, and authorise corruption investigations.
The first popularly elected president was Ong Teng Cheong, a former cabinet minister. He served as president from 1 September 1993 to 31 August 1999. However, the Singapore Government has, on the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers, deemed Ong's predecessor Wee Kim Wee the first elected president, on the basis that he had held and exercised the powers of the elected president. This was a result of transitional provisions in the Constitution of Singapore in 2017, which were affirmed by the High Court following a legal challenge by presidential hopeful Tan Cheng Bock. He appealed against this decision, but the Court of Appeal also dismissed it.
The sixth president was S. R. Nathan. He was not elected by the people in a vote, but became president by virtue of being the sole candidate deemed qualified by the Presidential Elections Committee. His first term of office was from 1 September 1999 to 31 August 2005. He was re-elected on 17 August 2005; both his election came on walkovers without any opposing contestants. After he stepped down, Tony Tan won the 27 August 2011 presidential election by a narrow 0.34% margin. He was sworn in as the seventh president of Singapore on 1 September 2011.
The eighth and current president, Halimah Yacob, took office on 14 September 2017, becoming the first president elected as she was the sole eligible candidate under the new reform terms which took effect earlier that year. She is also the first female President of Singapore.

Constitutional position and role

The President is the head of state of Singapore. The executive authority of the nation is vested in the President and exercisable by them or by the Cabinet or any minister authorised by the Cabinet. However, the Constitution vests "general direction and control of the Government" in the Cabinet. In most cases, the President is bound to exercise their powers in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a minister acting under the Cabinet's general authority. The President only exercises limited powers in their personal discretion to block attempts by the government of the day to draw down past reserves it did not accumulate, to approve changes to key appointments, and to exercise oversight over the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and decisions of the Executive under the Internal Security Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
speaking to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev during the latter's visit in 2009
As a component of the legislature together with Parliament, the President is also jointly vested with legislative authority. The President's primary role in the exercise of legislative power to make laws is assenting to bills passed by Parliament. As the President exercises this constitutional function in accordance with Cabinet's advice and not in their personal discretion except in certain circumstances, in general he or she may not refuse to assent to bills that Parliament has validly passed. The words of enactment in Singapore statutes are: "Be it enacted by the President with the advice and consent of the Parliament of Singapore, as follows:". The President usually opens each Parliamentary session with an address drafted by the Cabinet setting out the Government's agenda for the session, and may address Parliament and send messages to it.
The President has been called "Singapore's No. 1 diplomat". Ambassadors and high commissioners accredited to Singapore present their credentials to the President, and the President is called upon by visiting foreign leaders. In addition, the President contributes to the nation's external relations by undertaking overseas trips on Cabinet's advice. Presidents have also used the office to champion charitable causes. Wee Kim Wee promoted sports and volunteerism; and Ong Teng Cheong culture and the arts, particularly music. In 2000, S.R. Nathan established the President's Challenge with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and its statutory board, the National Council of Social Service. As of 2011, the endeavour had raised more than S$100 million for charities supporting disabled and needy people.


The powers of the President of Singapore are divided into those which the President may exercise in their own discretion, and those their must exercise in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet of Singapore or of a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet. In addition, the President is required to consult the Council of Presidential Advisers when performing some of his functions. In other cases, he or she may consult the CPA if he or she wishes to but is not bound to do so.
The Constitution confers on the President certain executive functions to block attempts by the government of the day to draw down past reserves that it did not accumulate. Thus, a guarantee may only be given or a loan raised by the Government if the President concurs, and his or her approval is also needed for budgets of specified statutory boards and Government companies that draw on their past reserves. The President also possesses personal discretion to withhold assent to any bill in Parliament providing directly or indirectly for the direct or indirect variation, changing or increase in powers of the Central Provident Fund Board to invest moneys belonging to it; and the borrowing of money, the giving of any guarantee or the raising of any loan by the Government if in the President's opinion the bill is likely to draw on reserves not accumulated by the Government during its current term of office. In addition, the President may withhold assent to any Supply Bill, Supplementary Supply Bill or Final Supply Bill for any financial year if in his or her opinion the estimates of revenue and expenditure, supplementary estimates or statement of excess are likely to lead to a drawing on past reserves.
The President is also empowered to approve changes to key civil service positions, such as the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General, the chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, the Chief of Defence Force and the Commissioner of Police. He or she also appoints as Prime Minister a Member of Parliament who, in his or her personal judgment, is likely to command the confidence of a majority of MPs. The President has certain powers of oversight over the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and decisions of the Executive under the Internal Security Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
The term of office of the first elected president, Ong Teng Cheong, was marked by differences between him and the Government concerning the extent of his discretionary fiscal powers. Discussions culminated in the Government issuing a non-binding white paper entitled The Principles for Determining and Safeguarding the Accumulated Reserves of the Government and the Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Government Companies. In 2009, the Government requested approval from President S.R. Nathan to draw $4.9 billion from past financial reserves to meet current budget expenditure, the first time it had done so. The sum was used to fund the Government's Resilience Package consisting of two schemes aimed at preserving jobs and businesses during the financial downturn.



A person who wishes to run for the office of president has to fulfil stringent qualifications set out in the Constitution, which are as follows:
The strictness of these qualifications led to the 1999, 2005, and 2017 elections being walkovers as only one candidate had qualified on nomination day.
In November 2016, further amendments provide for "reserved elections" for a particular racial group — if that community has not been represented for five presidential terms. Other amendments were made to expand the list of key government companies eligible for the candidacy, and, for candidates using their private sector experience, the use of $500 million of shareholder equity instead of $100 million in paid-up capital. The changes went into effect in April 2017. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later explained that while he expected the "reserved election" policy to be unpopular among the population, he believed it was "the right thing to do".

Election procedure

The President holds office for a term of six years from the date on which they assume office. The office falls vacant upon the expiry of the incumbent's term or if the President is for some reason unable to complete their term; for example, due to death, resignation, or removal from office for misconduct or mental or physical infirmity. If the office of President becomes vacant before the incumbent's term expires, a poll for an election must be held within six months. In other cases, an election can take place any time from three months before the expiry of the incumbent's term of office.
The procedure for elections is laid out in the Presidential Elections Act. The process begins when the Prime Minister issues a writ of election to the returning officer specifying the date and place of nomination day. Potential candidates must obtain certificates of eligibility from the Presidential Elections Committee, the function of which is to ensure that such persons have the necessary qualifications to be nominated as a candidate for the election. In particular, the PEC must be satisfied that the potential candidates are persons of integrity, good character and reputation; and if they have not previously held certain key government offices or acted as chairman of the board of directors or CEO of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act with shareholders' equity of at least $500 million, that they held a position of comparable seniority and responsibility in the public or private sector that has given them experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs. The PEC consists of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, who is also the Chairman of the PEC, the Chairman of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, and a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. For the 2017 presidential election, the members of the PEC are Eddie Teo, Lim Soo Hoon, Chan Heng Chee, Po'ad Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar, Tay Yong Kwang, and Peter Seah.
In addition, candidates must obtain political donation certificates from the Registrar of Political Donations stating that they have complied with the Political Donations Act, and file their nomination papers with the returning officer on nomination day. A deposit must also be paid. If there is only one candidate nominated, he or she is declared to have been elected president. Otherwise, the returning officer issues a notice of contested election specifying when polling day will be.
During the election period, a candidate may not spend more than $600,000 or 30 cents for each person on the electoral register, whichever is greater. Permits must be obtained to hold election meetings and display posters and banners, and a number of acts are unlawful, including bribery, dissuading electors from voting, making false statements about candidates, treating and undue influence. Legal changes introduced in 2010 made the eve of polling day a "cooling-off day" – campaigning must not take place on that day and on polling day itself.
Polling day is a public holiday, and voting is compulsory. Voters must go to the polling stations assigned to them. After the poll closes, the presiding officer of each polling station seals the ballot boxes without opening them. Candidates or their polling agents may also affix their own seals to the ballot boxes. The ballot boxes are then taken to counting centres to be opened and the ballots counted. A candidate or his or her counting agent may ask the returning officer for a recount of votes if the difference between the number of votes for the candidate with the most votes and any other candidate's number of votes is 2% or less. After all counts, and recounts if any, have been completed, the returning officer ascertains whether the total number of electors registered to vote overseas is less than the difference between the number of votes for the two candidates with the highest number of votes. If so, the returning officer declares the candidate with the highest number of votes to be elected as President. If not, the overseas votes may be decisive. The returning officer then states the number of votes cast for each candidate and the date and location where the overseas votes will be counted.

Last contested election

The 2011 presidential election was the first election with a ballot since the 1993 election, and was also Singapore's first presidential election contested by more than two candidates. The election was won by Tony Tan Keng Yam with 745,693 of valid votes.

Assumption of office and disabilities

The person elected to the office of president assumes office on the day his predecessor ceases to hold office or, if the office is vacant, on the day following his election. Upon his assumption of office, the President is required to take and subscribe in the presence of the Chief Justice or of another Justice of the Supreme Court the Oath of Office, which states:
Once elected, the President shall:
In the case when the President is unable to perform their duties, their powers are temporarily transferred to the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers. If the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers is not available, the Speaker of the Parliament performs the duties of the President. If both are unavailable the presidential functions are performed by an individual appointed by the Parliament.

Salary and entitlements

The Parliament of Singapore is required to provide a civil list for the maintenance of the President, and it does so by way of the Civil List and Gratuity Act. With effect from 17 February 2012, the sum under Class I of the list, which includes the President's personal pay, an entertainment allowance and an allowance for an Acting President, is $1,646,400. The privy purse was reduced from $4,267,500 after the President accepted the Ministerial Salaries Review Committee's recommendations on the matter.
The salaries for the President's personal staff amount to $4,532,400. Speaking in Parliament on 10 March 2011, the Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam explained that this sum was to cater for the salaries of an additional staff officer to support the work of the Council of Presidential Advisers, and a butler manager; and to meet higher variable staff salary payments due to the nation's strong economic growth. The allowance for the Istana's household expenses is $2,762,308, an increase from $694,000. This allowance is used to cover the maintenance of the Istana, vehicles, utilities and other supplies, as well as for ceremonies and celebrations. The increase was to cater for higher expenses for maintaining computer systems, buildings and land, and to account for inflation.
Class IV expenses for "special services" are $550,000. In previous years, this sum was used to cover various expenses such as the cost of replacing state cars and installing a new document repository. Overall, the current civil list of $9,491,100 represents a decrease of about 18% from the sum for the past fiscal year of $11,605,000.

List of presidents of the Republic of Singapore


Living former presidents

Acting presidents of the Republic of Singapore