Do we still want a Nathanesque president? part 1

The following is an excerpt of an article on Yawning Bread

Alex Au/

I was speaking at an event organised by Maruah about the upcoming presidential election. Law professor Kevin Tan was the first speaker, giving a detailed run-down of the relevant constitutional provisions. This helped to clarify something that few Singaporeans, in the past, had much reason to pay attention to — what exactly the constitution says about the powers of the president.

Partly because of unfamiliarity with the role of the head of state, since our presidents have generally been like puppets on a string, many Singaporeans initially approached this election as a replay of the general election, bringing up issues such as housing, transport, the income gap and the influx of foreigners. Law minister K Shanmugam, in the last month or so, had to sternly tell Singaporeans that the president had no power at all — he was mostly to be a figurehead — except in a few areas where the constitution said he could act in his own discretion. Shanmugam’s attempt to shut Singaporeans up didn’t work as well as he might have hoped; expressions of bread-and-butter frustrations continue.

The mainstream media, taking the cue from the government, has mostly framed their reporting in the same way, but instead of saying that Singaporeans didn’t understand what the presidency was about, put a twist on it:  saying that certain candidates didn’t understand. The slant was that these candidates were “over-promising” and that they will surely fail to deliver and disappoint their supporters. There is also an unspoken slur that these candidates are out to break the law, raising the bogeyman of “confrontational politics”. Sotto Voce: These are bad candidates and you shouldn’t vote for them.

A reporter called me Sunday and asked me questions along those lines again. The thrust of the questions was to try to get me to agree that certain candidates were over-promising, and that they were unrealistic — from which it would be a short hop to saying they were delusional or confrontational. I resisted, reiterating what I said at the Maruah forum.

To which we will now come back. . .

Read the full article here.


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