Let’s ask… Should the office of elected president be abolished?

One of the causes championed by opposition groups is the abolishment of the office of elected President. They insist that the President have his powers reduced to that of a mere figurehead, a ceremonial position. Is this a healthy cause to pursue? Let’s see.

A key feature of a democracy is that no one person or entity has unchecked, unlimited power forever and ever. This can be achieved through power sharing through different estates. The opposition is the most famous form of power. The media (which includes even the internet these days), the courts, religious leaders, unions and even a King or Queen in some countries has a certain amount of political and influential power.

The President of Singapore has certain rights he could exercise:

  • He controls the key to our monetary resources and can veto policies decided by Parliament (although for non-fiscal matters, he has to comply with the Cabinet though, it does not mean he is free to say “no” to policies at his own whims and fancies)
  • He has the ability to decide on key appointments in the Civil Service
  • He is also the No.1 diplomat of the country so his stature should be one that commands respect internationally
  • He decides on appointments of Directors in the GIC

This office holds a fair bit of of power and if you think about it, the people should have the right to choose such a person.

Maybe some of us might cry foul: the President is almost always a PAP person; but it is an elected position. If perhaps a certain Tan Jee Say was elected to be President, he would also fulfill what that office is set out to do: keep the Parliament in check, regardless if this Parliament is run by the PAP or not.

So why does the Worker’s Party champion the abolishment of the President? They claim that “The power of Parliament as the people’s representative should be unfettered.”

But the body of elected President creates for more separation of powers, rather than a fusion of it. The Courts have the power to declare law incompatible with the Constitution, the President has the power of veto – doesn’t that create for more democracy rather than less? The United States for example has divided its powers so well that Parliament and the Executive are made up of completely separate people.

Parliament can be a place of petty partisan politics. Policies that can alter people’s lives can be designed just to make a party popular for election’s sakes. The office of the President is to put a check to this and make sure that Parliament must work for the people and that our national resources are protected should a party of dubious ambitions come into power.

The role of the President is just and fair. The office is democratically elected and his presence as a balance of power – necessary.

Some post-writing notes:
The Elected President is not just 1 person – the President.
One needs to see this office as an eco-system that includes: the Council of Presidential Advisers, the Cabinet and the Parliament.

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About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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