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A case of too little too late?

by: Jason Lee/

Since the May 7 election, several MPs from the ruling party have told their grassroots leaders to do away with excessive and unnecessary formalities at events which they will be gracing.

One MP, who was first elected in 2006, has requested not to be addressed as the guest-of-honour at such events. Instead, the constituents should simply be told that the MP is attending the event.

Another MP, who was also first elected in 2006, has told his grassroots leaders to refrain from getting residents to stand up to welcome him at events.

While such acts should be applauded, one cannot help but wonder why it took both MPs – and possibly many others as well – five years and a watershed election to realise that they are after all “servants of the people, not their masters”?

Was the sense of “political awakening” due to PM Lee Hsien Loong’s call on April 17? Or was it because of the results of the May 7 GE which demonstrated that there are no longer any “unloseable seats” in Singapore’s political arena?

Whatever the reason, it seems to be a case of too little too late.

For residents who are used to “glorifying” their MPs – whether in the form of applauding their arrival at constituency events or having to wait some 30-60 minutes for the MP to arrive before the programme will commence etc, the recent initiatives aimed at dispensing with such formalities will only lead to a perception of hypocrisy.

Moreover, what matters more than such formalities would be the genuine sincerity of the MPs and their grassroots leaders when they interact with the constituents.

What’s the point of doing away these ‘rah-rah’ fanfare if any MP and/his grassroots leaders continue to adopt a “holier-than-thou, know-it-all attitude” in their dealings with the residents?

In this regard, the jury is still out on whether such efforts aimed at connecting with their residents will eventually bear fruit.

Another issue where I reckon the Government’s recent actions seem to be a case of too little too late is the Elected Presidency.

For the past 12 years, there were no active discussions on the Elected Presidency. If my memory does not fail me, the last time our Ministers actively spoke on the concept of the EP was in August 1999 – when they rebutted the points raised by outgoing President Ong Teng Cheong at a press conference a month earlier.

Why then the sudden interest now, among several current and past Ministers, to actively “educate” Singaporeans the roles of the President?

Was it because of the strong likelihood that there will be a contest this time, which in turn raises the possibility that a “populist” candidate could be elected into Istana amid public unhappiness over several issues in recent years?

Given that the President has “important duties” as one Minister put it, coupled with the seeming perception among the Government that Singaporeans still do not exactly understand the roles and requirements of the President, why is it that no Member-of-Parliament deemed it fitting to file a motion for the issue to be discussed in depth in Parliament over the past decade?

Why the desperate bid now to “educate” and persuade Singaporeans that we should not elect a presidential candidate based on his populist promises as the Elected President would have no executive powers?

Does it not reflect a failure of the government if Singaporeans are still unsure about the exact roles of the elected president some 20 years after Singapore instituted legislation for the Elected Presidency?

Similarlly, does it not reflect a failure of the ruling party’s recruitment process if the PM is needed to “remind” his fellow MPs that they are “servants of the people, not their masters”?

Or is it just a sign of desperation?