The procedure devised for the election also has some unique features: a presidential candidate must meet certain criteria indicating extensive managerial experience at a senior level in public service or business. It is estimated that no more than a few hundred Singaporeans, at most a couple of thousand, could meet the criteria. The candidates are required to be non-partisan, so that to put himself up for the 1993 election, Ong, till then a Deputy Prime Minister, had to first resign from both his post and his party membership. The candidates submit their curriculum vitae to a 3-member committee appointed by the government before each presidential election to determine whether each candidate qualifies.
Despite the non-partisanship, Ong and his successor Sellapan Ramanathan, a retired senior civil servant, were clearly seen as "official" candidates endorsed by the "establishment", and therefore expected to win. It is relatively easy to find a "qualified winner" - while some of the senior people who meet the qualification criteria might not have sufficient interest, there are bound to be enough retired or soon-to-be retired people with the necessary qualifications who can be persuaded to take on this well paid and highly prestigious job. The problem lies in finding a "qualified loser": the chance of winning against the establishment-endorsed candidate is negligible; so why would a person who has the necessary qualification and importance want to put himself/herself through what is essentially a quixotic process? While many of these people would agree that it is a good idea for someone to come forward, so as to enable a contest to occur, they usually mean someone "else".
In 1993 a former Accountant-General was persuaded to stand against Ong, and actually managed to get over 40% of the vote even though he did very little campaigning. This percentage, higher than the amount going to opposition parties in a general election, basically amounts to an anti-establishment gesture when control of government itself is not at stake. The thought "since the committee approved him he must be all right" must have played a part in deciding to make the gesture. The outcome probably had two significant consequences: on the establishment side, it confirms the need to apply stringent qualification criteria to ensure that whoever that gets elected would be suitable; on the other side, any individual that can win 40% of votes against the "official" candidate would gain considerable limelight and prestige, and while for the people who already qualify, standing as the "qualified loser" provides little benefit, for the people who do not quite qualify, getting the chance to stand is by itself a good prize. Thus, in both 1989 and 2005 several individuals came forward to have their qualifications assessed but were rejected by the 3-member committee, so that the "official candidate", Sellapan Ramanathan, twice took office unopposed. In effect, he was "elected" by the committee, instead of election by parliament before the constitutional change.
Given that the underlying dynamics is difficult to change, it is perhaps a good idea to give the task of assessing presidential candidates' qualifications to an elected body; for example, see
Non-Constituency Parliament Members and Senators