As the presidential election draws near, Madam Ho Ching, former CEO of Temasek Holdings and spouse of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, took to Facebook to share her thoughts on the role of an elected President.
In her post on Wednesday (14 Jun), Mdm Ho delineated the two primary roles of the elected presidency: “The primary role is that of a head of state, representing Singapore as a nation and state, and the symbol of unity for our people. The secondary role, for which the election is to be held, is to hold a second key to help safeguard our reserves and the integrity of our key institutions.”
“It is not to be an independent voice, a check on govt, or an ombudsman to all the woes and ills of society.” claims Mdm Ho.
She went on to express her concerns about what she perceives as a tendency for the electorate to desire more government spending, a phenomenon she refers to as a “third-generation syndrome”.
Mdm Ho argued, “This is typically at odds with the desires of the electorate. Why? Because most of the electorate would want the government to spend more and not less, to subsidise this or that, or to make this or that free.”
Highlighting the risks of such an attitude, Madam Ho noted, “The gimme-gimme syndrome takes hold as the third generation eyes the kitty as a freebie, instead of thinking of the reserves as their heritage and legacy which they must, in their turn, add to and strengthen for their own future generations.”
She pointed to Switzerland as a rare example of a society that has remained conscious that there is no such thing as a free lunch. “This could explain why the Swiss are a high-income, high-quality-of-life nation that has remained independent for centuries,” she wrote.
Expressing her views on the upcoming elections, Madam Ho urged candidates to remember the two key roles of the presidency, “Just remember the two key roles of the Presidency: to be a titular head of state and to hold a second key for our reserves.”
Her post ended with an impassioned appeal, “Our President needs to be both a credible symbol of our nation, and also a person of courage and integrity, willing and capable of doing the right thing even if it is unpopular.”
Mdm Ho’s comments might be in response to the growing call from Singaporeans for an independent president and more checks and balances on the People’s Action Party which holds super-majority seats in the Singapore Parliament.
In response to the post, Tiong Guan Chua, a commenter, disagreed with her views and pointed out the additional responsibilities of the President, such as key appointments, safeguarding land reserves, and calling for Commission of Inquiry (COI) when needed.
Adding to the discussion, Herny Sharp commented, “In addition, the President plays a key role in appointing government offices, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the Parliament. He also holds the power to dismiss and dissolve these offices.”
Commenters on Mdm Ho’s post also referred to entrepreneur George Goh, who collected the application form for a Certificate of Eligibility on Tuesday.
Kelvin Lai wrote, “The moment he mentioned the cost of living, I knew he was out of line and trying to make people angry with the Government. As a president, what can he change about the cost of living in Singapore? He’s simply deceiving people about what he can’t do, even if he is elected.”
Mr Goh was speaking to local media at a doorstop interview and raised the issue of the cost of living as a difficult situation that Singaporeans face today. He urged people to think about the young people and said that there’s a need for him to be their voice.
Mdm Ho’s ideal President is likely to be Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a PAP veteran politician. He announced his resignation from the party last Thursday to participate in the upcoming 2023 Presidential Election, which has to be held by 13 September.
He said he would also step down from his roles as Senior Minister, Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), and Deputy Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).
Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Secretary General of the Reform Party, expressed reservations about Tharman’s eligibility as a presidential candidate, criticizing his move from Finance Minister to Presidential candidate.
In a blog post, Mr Jeyaretnam scrutinized Mr Tharman’s political history and personal character, raising questions about whether a former Finance Minister, who was in charge of the state reserves, is suitable for a role expected to oversee the management of these reserves. He described the situation as “Ownself Check Ownself”.
Desire to see another President with the conviction of the late Ong Teng Cheong
When news of Mr Tharman’s intention to stand for president first came out, netizens commenting on Mothership and CNA‘s Facebook posts, shared their hope for the next “people’s president” to follow in the footsteps of the late Ong Teng Cheong.
They expressed admiration for Mr Ong’s courage, conviction, and integrity in safeguarding Singapore’s reserves, even if it meant engaging in disputes with his former colleagues in the government.
Mr Ong’s actions earned him respect from fellow Singaporeans, with many hoping for a similar leader who prioritizes the interests of the people.
Furthermore, voices were raised expressing the desire for a president who is not merely a “puppet” that listens and blindly follows, but rather someone who can genuinely care for the citizens and fight for their rights.
There were concerns about having a president who may be perceived as a “rubber stamp” or one who aligns too closely with the ruling party, calling for an independent and strong advocate for the people’s welfare.
There is a reason for the netizens’ desire to see another Mr Ong as the presidents after him, who are associated with PAP, hardly emulated the same drive to perform their job as Mr Ong did, even at the risk of antagonizing the party for which he had worked with over two decades.
Mr Ong said in an interview in 2000 about his questioning of the PAP Government over the POSBank being absorbed by DBS bank, “It’s not that we are busybodies, but under the Constitution, we have a role to play and a responsibility. Sometimes in the newspaper, I came to know of things that I am responsible for, but if it had not been reported in the newspaper, I would not know about it.”
“I know you don’t like my interference and busybody checking up and so on. But under the Constitution, it is my job to do that.”