The Succession Plan – How Singapore would Handle a Leadership Emergency

Former President S R Nathan passed away on August 22nd, and just a day before, PM Lee gave Singaporeans quite a scare by nearly fainting during his National Day Rally speech. With S R Nathan’s state funeral on August 26th and the Prime Minister on medical leave until August 29, it’s only natural for Singaporeans to wonder: are we prepared for a leadership emergency if worst came to worst?

If you’re not sure, don’t fret. That question has already been answered in the Constitution. Here is a brief sketch of the order of succession, with the appropriate sections referenced for anyone who doubts.


If the Prime Minister cannot complete his term, the role will probably pass to a Deputy Prime Minister (in this case, either Tharman Shanmugaratnam or Teo Chee Hean). However according to the Constitution, the successor can actually be any Member of Parliament, so long as the President believes he/she can command the confidence of the majority of MPs. If the President judges that the Prime Minister’s seat has been vacant for a reasonable time, and no MP present can command the confidence of a parliamentary majority, the President would dissolve Parliament, paving the way for a general election within the next 3 months. – Article 65 (2)


The Constitution also spells out succession inside the Istana. If any President is unable to finish his/her term, an acting President must take over until a new President is elected, within 6 months after the post became vacant (Presidential Elections Act 6(1)(a)). Unlike the fully-presidential system in the USA, there is no Vice-President waiting to swoop in, possibly because in Singapore it is the Cabinet that is generally responsible for government policies, while the President performs ceremonial, custodial and discretionary roles.

Instead of a VP, the role of acting President first falls on the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers (currently J Y Pillay). If (knock on wood) the Chairman is also unable, then the Speaker of Parliament becomes acting President (currently Madam Halimah Yacob). If all that wood knocking proves ineffective and the Speaker is also unable, Parliament may step in and select a person (MP or not) with the qualifications and years of experience (Article 19) needed to perform the functions of President, pending the new elections. – Article 22N

In case the last few days have left you rattled, now you know. With a clear, constitutional roadmap in place for both President and Prime Minister, in the unlikely event of a manpower emergency, Singapore already has a plan in position, so things don’t turn into a succession crisis.


Feature image belongs to Milnivri

Written by Vincent Tan