It’s only recently I took a bit more interest in what a President does, because I’m part of a big group of apathetic Singaporeans who normally don’t care what happens at the top as long as the country runs well.
But there’s been so much buzz about presidents lately, first with the Constitutional Commission (CC) review of the elected presidency, and the passing of our late former president S R Nathan.
After the CC review came out, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about it on TV at the National Day Rally, for some reason, these few headlines took root.
– CC wants to make it more difficult for anyone to qualify as a President
– simi CPA?
– Minorities get extra chances, but it’s condescending
– Why the timing so zhun one?
– So much work just to prevent Tan Cheng Bock from running
Are these headlines really what’s happening? Or is there more to it?
1. Qualifying criteria must increase because everything else has
In the last 25 years, our GDP has grown 5x, our CPF money 6x, official foreign reserves 9x.
By the way, we have US$248bn in MAS official foreign reserves (there isn’t any decimal point missing).
But anyone who works in a company with $100m paid-up capital can run for president.
He/She doesn’t even need to be CEO of the company (I heard Tan Jee Say was a fund manager, Tan Cheng Bock was a director).
Can you imagine, we update HDB, CPF policies every few years, but one update of president qualifying criteria in 25 years can create such a big hoo-ha.
Anyway, I’m all for upping the qualifying criteria, because I want to make sure my CPF money stays where it is and not be anyhowly used.
2. Presidential custodial powers and how important the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) are
There are 3 parts to this story from what I heard.
Parliament votes to do something, and seeks president’s approval (with CPA’s blessing):
– good: president and CPA say yes
– bad: president and CPA say no, then parliament must re-propose/get supermajority vote or drop the idea???
– deadlock: president or CPA have different views, or don’t even give answer
Well the last scenario will put us in a tight spot.
So the CC review suggests looking into mechanisms to resolve this possible deadlock, and strengthening the CPA so the president gets more qualified advice.
3. Ensuring ALL races get a fair shot at Presidency
Let’s look at our past presidents. The first four were Malay, Eurasian, Indian, Chinese (fulfilling the CMIO), then Chinese, Indian, Chinese.
The president is supposed to be a symbol of unity, and multi-racialism is one force that unifies us as a nation.
I wrote before that Singapore is unique because race is included, and not excluded in how our country is run.
Ok so let’s say for the next 5 presidents, they’re all other races except race X, that’s not a very inclusive presidential run. By the way, race X can also refer to Chinese.
So maybe the new constitution may include an “airbag” rule, only to be used when the following happens:
– only IF there isn’t a President of a particular race X (Chinese, Malay, Indian, others) for let’s say 10 terms
– only IF a qualified candidate of race X comes along (so meritocracy still comes first)
It’s something like ensuring all races are eventually represented by the presidency in a span of how many terms.
4. Why only now then do this CC review?
If you looked at our past presidents, there wasn’t really a need for this rule as the first 4 already met the inclusive factor of CMIO.
But that doesn’t mean this will always happen for the next 100 years.
So to plan forward for the scenario that one day the presidency may not be racially-inclusive, is actually quite typical of our kiasu mindset, like how we also plan for the day the sea levels rise and flood our low lying areas.
5. Is it because of one person that this CC review came about?
The presidency isn’t about one person sitting on a throne flaunting his right to the second key.
The president is also not just a figurehead or puppet as he plays a very important role in setting the tone for our nation.
The president to me, should be a role model like what we saw in Mr S R Nathan:
– selfless in looking after fellow workers
– inclusive towards all races (not just his own) and those with special needs
– spending time and energy building relationships with other countries so enhance Singapore’s global standing
– remembered as a humble man who took the effort to pay close attention to the concerns of everyday Singaporeans
So I don’t think the review is about one person, but it’s part of long-term planning to keep Singapore as one independent country.
And the president who’s elected, should be a person who unifies us, not divide us.