Jason Lee /
Notwithstanding the Government's recent announcements (ie. review of Ministerial salaries) and actions (ie. PM's apology during an election rally) which received lavish praise from many Singaporeans – especially journalists and political watchers, I'd argue that this Government could go one step further by not "discouraging" potential candidates who might be keen to contest in the next Presidential Election which must be held by 31 August 2011.
I do not know if Singaporeans – or even foreign investors – would genuinely be concerned over who will succeed the incumbent President on 1 September 2011.
After all, many cynics of the Elected Presidency (EP) would argue that the Head of State has always been a ceremonial post, and has never shaped or changed any policies which would impact Singaporeans.
A recent statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (on the issue of salaries’ review) said:
“While the salary of the President should reflect the President's high status as the head of state and his critical custodial role as holder of the second key (to the Reserves), it should also take into account the fact that unlike the Prime Minister, he does not have direct executive responsibilities except as they relate to his custodial role.”
However, the significance of the President’s role becomes apparent when one examines the six-year period between September 1993 and August 1999 when the late President Ong Teng Cheong was in office.
Regardless of our political affiliation or views, I believe many Singaporeans would agree with me that President Ong’s term in office demonstrated that his “loyalty is, first and foremost, to the people of Singapore”, a statement he emphasised during the presidential campaign of August 1993.
The Constitution was amended to provide for a President elected by the people in 1992, and I believe I speak for many in saying that we should have a contest this time – after walkovers in 1999 and 2005.
The stringent criterias would however rule out many good men and women who otherwise would be eligible to contest.
The challenge for us now is to persuade the few (less than 1,000, I reckon) eligible candidates whom we know would face no difficulties in receiving the Certificate of Eligibility (issued by the Presidential Elections Committee).
Following that, it is for Singaporeans to decide if he or she has the experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs to effectively discharge the duties and responsibilities of the office of the President.
That candidate should be persuaded to come forward and serve Singaporeans by his/her fellow Singaporeans. It would therefore be ideal if the Government “refrains” from endorsing any candidate in the upcoming Presidential Election.
As President Ong demonstrated, it does not matter if a former PAP heavyweight holds the highest office in the land. What is more important is that this person has the courage and conviction to make bold decisions in the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.
If the Government comes to him with a request within his jurisdiction, he should seek to gain a full understanding of the issue, and the consequences of his decision.
If he has to reject the Government’s request, he should not shy away from doing so.
Many of us would remember that President Ong tested several issues during his six-year term. He had also pushed for the publication of the 'White Paper on the Determination and Safeguarding of the Protection of the reserves of the Government' which was tabled in Parliament in July 99.
Such moves and decisions are for the good of Singapore in general. After all, the President is not beholden to the Government.
As the late Mr Ong said during the presidential campaign in August 1993: “I am no longer partisan and I will no longer come under the control of the party whip. So I am an independent person and my main duty, if elected as President, is to look after the interests of the nation and the people as a whole - not any sectoral interests.”
It is therefore crucial that we have an independent-minded President to assume office on 1 September 2011.
In an interview with AsiaWeek in early 2000, President Ong said: “I was elected to do a job. And I had to do that job whether the government — or anyone else — liked it or not.”
That’s the mentality our next President should have. His or her actions in office will help shape our political destiny, even if indirectly.
You can join the Facebook group here: Vote for an independent-minded President.
Headline picture from Wikipedia.