A few weeks back, a reader wrote in to ask if I could do a piece on how the presidential election (PE) campaign is funded? Who pays for the People's Action Party candidate (PAP)'s Public Relations and campaigning funds.
Well, it is frankly hard to say for sure.
Take for example, Ms Han Hui Hui's election campaign at Radin Mas SMC during the General Election 2015. I note from my visit to the Election Department to view the expenses declared by candidates that Ms Han wrote that all her campaign expenses were funded by her, with only her name in the source of funding.
This is despite the fact that Ms Han had openly sourced for donations to run her election campaign at the SMC, however, the election department did not find fault with Ms Han at the end of the GE2015. Therefore, though the election department requires the candidate to declare the source of funding for the expenses incurred during the election campaign, it hardly goes to verify the actual source or contest the declared figures unless of course someone is being targetted to be fixed.
In any case, this question about how the PAP candidate will be funded is likely to be redundant for the upcoming Presidential Election because it will be a walkover election.
Why do I say that the upcoming PE will be a walkover election? I put it to three reasons.
1. No signs of preparation for the election
Back in the GE2015, TOC received information from various sources in the civil service about blocking of leaves (Teachers being told to not go away during the school holidays), sudden cancellation of appointments, projects, blocking of schedule with no indication of what the intended replacement events are (Community Centres and People's Association being told to cancel events), with clear signs that the election would be held in September that year.
True enough, the election was called in September, catching some of the opposition MPs off guard as some had been asked by the government to attend an ASEAN leaders meeting during the campaign period for GE2015.
Moving on to this upcoming election, there has been zero information coming out from the whole establishment that there is anything big being planned for the upcoming month or months thereafter. Given that the PE2017 would involve the whole nation in the voting booths, it is very unlikely that the government will expect to mobilize all its civil services without prior notice.
2. The PAP candidate will lose if there is a straight contest between candidates
Of course, nothing is for sure in an open election. But if we look at the history of Presidential Elections, this is not hard to comprehend why.
Looking at the first Presidential Election, well-respected President Ong Teng Cheong also fondly known as the People's President, won the election with 58.69% versus his contesting opponent, Mr Chua Kim Yeow, who was the first local accountant-general in Singapore with a poll of 41.31%.
PAP had then just won 61% of the votes cast in 1991 General Election (only 50.1% of electorates voted due to walkovers) and Mr Ong, as former NTUC Secretary-General and Deputy Prime Minister, had the labour unions and the whole PAP machinery behind him.
While Mr Ong's winning margin is definitely acceptable as compared to Mr Tony Tan's razor thin margin of 0.35%, but bear in mind that Mr Chua did not hold any rallies, did not do any form of campaigning, and even in the televised speech to the nation, he called for the people to vote for Mr Ong.
After his presidential term, Mr Ong had this to say when Asiaweek asked if some of his colleagues did not think it was much fun when his only opponent got so much support from the electorates.
Yes, all of them were quite worried. Some ministers even called me to say: Oh, we are worried about the outcome. At first, we were quite confident about getting over 70 percent of the vote. But there was a swing of support over to my opponent's side, especially in the educated class -- civil servants and the Shenton Way group. The issue was whether they wanted a PAP man as president to check on a PAP government, or whether it would be better to have a neutral independent like Chua. That's why they voted against me because I had the PAP government support. I would have been happier without the PAP's open support. I think I would have been better off with just the unionists' support and the Chinese-educated heartlanders. Without them I would not have been elected.
According to TOC's sources, this is why Presidential Candidate Tan Jee Say was allowed to pass through the gate in PE2011 despite not having to meet the criterion of being the chief executive officer of a Singapore company with a paid-up capital of S$100 million. The votes that he received split the votes from Dr Tan Cheng Bock, seen as a non-PAP endorsed candidate, who would have clearly won the election based on the results of the election.
In the cases of the two walkover election that late S.R Nathan went through, it is not that there had not been any interested candidates but the Election Department had disqualified them from standing in the elections.
While Mr Salleh Marican is pretty sure himself that he would not qualify under the new rule requiring candidates from the private sector to be CEOs of Singapore company with $500 million shareholders equity, but Mr Farid Khan might qualify under the same relaxation of rules extended to Mr Tan Jee Say. However, given the example of President Ong's election results with his reluctant opponent and the result shown in the last Presidential Election, PAP will not risk an election of two candidates fighting off in a straight contest.
With the above, there is a high possibility that the two non-PAP candidates will be disqualified by the Election Department, making this upcoming racialized election a walkover victory for Mdm Halimah Yacob who is walking into Istana with her status as former Speaker of Parliament, and not as a CEO of a company with $500 million shareholders equity
3. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is not his father
Rumors have been going around saying that there would not be an election, but some questioned if the PAP administration dare to fix the presidential election so blatantly to appoint its selected candidate and argue that it will not be let off easily if it did so.
But let us recall the series of events leading up to the nomination of the reserved election.
PM Lee announced the need to relook at the Presidential Election in Feb 2016, a mere year before the latest date where the Presidential Election is to be held, and thereafter appointed a Constitutional Commission to study and make recommendations on aspects of the Elected Presidency. When the report of the Commission came out, the government adopted the recommendations practically wholesale and introduced new changes which barred Dr Tan Cheng Bock from standing in the upcoming election. PM Lee then said in Parliament that he received advice from the Attorney General's Chamber that President Wee Kim Wee should be viewed as the first elected president for the purpose of counting of the 5 terms for the reserved election, without mentioning the exact advice given to him and made the PE2017 a reserved one.
Despite all the complaints made against late Lee Kuan Yew for his methods of crushing his opponents and bulldozing policies and actions, such as the closure of Nantah University and what not, LKY still had tact in how he pushed his agenda with consideration of how people think of his government's actions. Insiders within the establishment, past and present, would know how LKY administration backed away from certain decisions due to negative ground sentiments. If some individuals have to be fixed, there would be a believable story or narrative constructed to convince the populace or someone else to take the blame.
But PM Lee is not his father, With the recent denial of allegations by PM Lee in the Parliament, clearing his name by mere assertion by himself that there "is no basis to the allegations of abuse of power made by" his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang against him – instead doing what his father would do, which is to file a defamation suit against the accusers – there seems to be no extent to how he would push the limit of the people's tolerance.
Perhaps the 70% of the popular vote in the last election has emboldened the PAP administration thinking that they are given a blank cheque to fill for the rest of their term, a drastic change from their reflective policies seen after their loss of a GRC in the GE2011.
To what extent will PAP go for its own interest
While the political interest in fixing the appointment of President is obvious but we may never have proof of such conspiracy theories of how the racialized presidential position can to be, because the PAP administration has till today rejected the call to open up government archives which can shed light on how policies and decisions came to be decades ago.
Instead of asking of how can we prove such conspiracies, the question that we should be asking after the appointment of our racialized President should be, “How low will PAP stoop so as to protect its stranglehold on political power?”