The Presidential Elections are now done and dusted. Singapore has a new President, Tony Tan, or TT as he is commonly dubbed. Scraping through the elections, TT will be the seventh President of Singapore. When the election results were first announced, I was dismayed and disappointed. Not because I know TT personally and not because he is incapable but because he is too affiliated with the PAP. The office of the President is viewed as one imbued with the task of acting as an effective check against the ruling party. Since TT is viewed as a “PAP man”, how can he act as an effective check against the PAP?
Of the four Tans, Tan Jee Say (TJS) was the man I viewed as the most charismatic and independent candidate. He struck me as a man who was willing to passionately fight for Singaporeans. In that regard, he deserved to be President. However, as TT once said, “we have to vote for the office that does exist”. The President does not have the far reaching power to initiate any policy changes. He only has limited powers of veto on certain issues. He can therefore only represent the people with the support of Parliament. Like it or not, Parliament will never fully support TJS. Realistically, they will view TJS with suspicion and he will have a relatively more difficult time fighting for the people. TJS as President may therefore be counterproductive.
As for Tan Kin Lian (TKL), he is a good and personable man whose strength lies in connecting with the man on the street. He is an effective grassroots worker and should focus on that. As President, I somehow think that he would not have the necessary grit to take on and challenge Parliament.
Tan Cheng Bock (TCB) was viewed as the most moderate candidate of the four, acceptable to pro PAP, anti PAP and neutral camps. He has demonstrated in the past that he was capable of challenging the PAP while at the same time being part of the PAP. He would also have been someone that Parliament would have been prepared to work with. In that regard, he may have been the best choice. Parliament would have been more receptive to his views and he would have less resentment from the people to overcome. With fewer battles to fight, he would have been able to concentrate fully on the task of representing Singaporeans effectively. However, the voters have spoken and this is not to be.
Despite this turn of events, I am an eternal optimist. Behind every dark cloud, there is a silver lining.
Putting emotions and idealism aside, TT might actually prove to be an acceptable choice for our current political climate, despite his PAP affiliations. He will have the benefit of not having to deal with a defensive or suspicious Parliament. He is someone familiar to them and they will find it more palatable to work with him which would facilitate his job of representing the people. With the benefit of tacit government endorsement, he may be able to make suggestions and exercise his limited powers in a way to benefit the people without facing the same difficulties TJS would face. Parliament would be more receptive to TT just by virtue of the fact that he is TT! TJS could say exactly the same thing as TT but somehow, I suspect he would not get the same green light. That is simply the reality of human relationships. If we like someone, we will be more open to what they have to say!
One may argue that TT will simply be a mouthpiece for the ruling party but I harbour the hope that this will not be the case. Singaporeans are now more politicised than ever. They are watching and they are vocal. The internet is an effective tool for holding TT to account. Through the “NS saga” involving TT’s sons, TT will also have realised that the public is not prepared to take perceived unfairness lying down. With the internet, issues can no longer be simply swept under the carpet. TT has also pledged to work with all Singaporeans stating that the President “is a President for all Singaporeans”. Not only for those who have voted for him, but even for those who have not voted for him. He further declared that the campaign was “strenuous” and that the work would begin “straightaway”.
This double admission gives me some encouragement that he might yet be a good President. In admitting that the campaign was strenuous, he is tacitly recognising that votes must be earned and worked for. Hopefully, this will mean that TT will not take public support for granted. In stating that the work must begin straightaway, he is signifying that he is aware that there is much to be done to restore public confidence.
With an ever vigilant public in the age of information technology, coupled with TT’s acknowledgments of the work that must be done, perhaps TT will live up to his campaign promises. His established relationship with Parliament may also contribute towards his ability to persuade Parliament on certain issues within the President’s power that would benefit all Singaporeans.
So, looking at things holistically, TT as President is not all bad. If he proves a good President, all Singaporeans will benefit and goodwill will be restored. If TT fails, then it will hopefully convince staunch PAP supporters to give all candidates a chance regardless of which party they belong to and eradicate the de facto pro PAP vote.