Contrary to what Mr Chan Chun Sing said on Friday, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) will not pay or lose political capital over the changes made to the Elected President scheme.
Mr Chan, speaking at a forum on the issue organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), was explaining why the government had felt it necessary to introduce the Reserved Election, where a presidential election will be reserved only for minority-race candidates if the preceding 5 terms have not seen any minority-race President.
This, the government says, is to preserve Singapore’s adherence to multicultural representation in the highest office in the land. The move, however, has been slammed by many, who see it as another manipulation of the levers of powers to keep the ruling party in power and in controlling all channels of authority.
The Government, Mr Chan said, “has paid and will pay a political price” for the changes.
“We had anticipated that it will be a hard journey to convince people and we will pay the political price, at least in the short term,” Mr Chan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, told the audience which, incidentally, also agreed that the Government will lose political capital over the matter.
“We are prepared to pay the political price because we think the future of our country is much more important than any political capital that we may have for this generation,” Mr Chan said. “We owe it to ourselves, to our future generations to put in place systems, to preempt issues,” he said.
“If the issues don’t arise in the future … we are very happy, very proud. Maybe we have done our little bit for the future of Singapore to be better. But we will not be able to face the future generations if we have not done what we can, within our means, to establish the foundations for them to be even more successful than us.”
One feels, however, that Mr Chan is being a little dramatic here. It is hard to see how the Government, or the PAP, will pay or has paid a political price for the decision to introduce a Reserved Election. Mr Chan did not explain or elaborate how the Government has lost any support over this.
The next general election, which will be the true barometer of support or erosion of support over the issue, is still some 3 years away.
By the time the next polls are called, Singaporeans would have moved on to other more pressing matters, and also one suspects the new president – which will most likely be Halimah Yacob – would have settled into the job and perform admirably. Mdm Halimah, after all, is well regarded and does excellent work with the less fortunate. One does not expect that she will stop doing so after becoming president.
So, where is the cost of having a Reserved Election? The unhappiness over the changes will be forgotten by 2020.
That being so, one would question what Law Minister, K Shanmugam, said at the same forum on the same issue:
“If the President, term after term, comes from a single race, would everyone feel that he or she symbolises the entire state, entire nation?”
Indeed, that is a valid point, Singapore being a multiracial society. One would tend to agree with the Government that when it comes to issues of race, it is best to tackle them head-on, with open honesty and sincere debate and discussions.
However, in this case of the president, there is one foolproof way to ensure that we will always have a rotational system, whereby each race is given a chance to occupy the highest office in Singapore.
In fact, we had that system in the past, until the Elected President scheme was introduced in 1991.
That system was one where Parliament appointed the president.
It is therefore obvious that if we want to allow each of the races here the opportunity to represent all Singaporeans, the solution is to revert to the appointed president system.
But the Government wants the president to also have executive powers to be a check on the government of the day. This is why the elected President is endowed with certain powers and authority, and in order to have the moral authority to exercise these powers, he has to be elected, to be given the mandate by the people to act on their behalf, to have the moral weight and sway on the elected government.
Makes sense – if you agree with the premise of the elected President scheme, ie to be a check on the ruling party.
But the scheme so far has not worked that way, given that all 3 elected Presidents thus far were all from the establishment, 2 of them from the ruling PAP itself.
Mdm Halimah will be the 4th elected President from the establishment/PAP, if she wins in September.
In brief, the elected President is supposed to be a check on the ruling PAP Government, but all the elected presidents so far are or will be from the establishment or are ex-PAP ministers.
Yet, the Government has been silent on this, and has ignored suggestions that candidates for the presidency who are politicians (especially sitting office holders) should be barred from contesting unless they have not been involved in politics for a specified number of years.
For Mdm Halimah, for example, she resigned from the PAP only in August, and will become president barely a month later. After having spent decades as a PAP member, MP and minister, can she suddenly be totally independent of mind?
So, it is clear that the elected President scheme does not work, and cannot work unless further changes are made to it.
Until then, the best way to ensure multiracial representation in the presidency is to revert to a president appointed by Parliament.