This article is a bit old (from late 2017), but I only just discovered it and think it is still very much worth sharing.
One of the points that writer Jason Tan makes would probably be met with a firm rebuttal from the former president of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan. Jason Tan writes that it is the President’s duty to “be an effective check on the elected government” and “assert herself as a distinct and independent power centre and [counterbalance] the executive branch of government”.
In 2016, then-president Tan expressed in a message to Parliament that the Elected President must act in accordance with the roles prescribed in the Constitution and not hold back the Elected Government of the day from performing its executive role. He or she cannot be a second centre of power, he asserted.
You can read the official description from the Istana about the president’s roles and responsibilities here.
I agree to a large extent with Dr Tony Tan’s sentiments, as under our political system, Parliament is the primary setting for political contestation as well as checks and balances to be manifested. If the Elected President were to actively engage in political debate and seek to be another “power centre”, Parliament would be undermined and our system would be heavily unsettled.
However, the President also holds an office steeped in symbolic meaning; he or she is the Head of State, chosen by the people, and therefore is supposed to be a wise man or woman revered by the people. Given this status and exalted position, I believe that she should be willing to speak up on the basis of conscience and social duty if she feels that something is wrong in the country. Of course she should not wade into every controversy and public debate, much less to align herself with any political party. She should think long and hard about expressing a view on any issue with a political dimension, but expressing such a view does not necessarily mean that she is engaging in politics, in the narrow sense of the word. If done the right way – with respect and empathy for differing viewpoints – she could simply be speaking up for the shared values and common conscience of the nation, to protect values that Singaporeans hold dear. Of course some would disagree with any such viewpoint, but it would be more a unifying act than a divisive one on the part of the President – and thus compatible with the President’s role as a “symbol of unity” (quoting the Istana website).
Put another way, the President can and should share his or her wisdom with the people on matters where his or her wisdom is needed. It is something that the people expect of their elected head of state and esteemed elder – his or her wise counsel. The vast majority understand that the President has very limited executive power – but she certainly has influence, and should use it sagaciously for the betterment of the country.
September 20, 2017
By Jason Tan
Anger, rage, disappointment and a profound sense of sadness – these were emotions which coursed through the veins of many Singaporeans who were aggrieved at the non-election of the next President of Singapore. It did not come as a surprise that only one Certificate of Eligibility was issued – to the former Speaker of Parliament and current President Halimah Yacob. Aspiring hopefuls and her would-be contenders for the highest office in the land were disqualified as they were unable to meet the SGD500million qualifying threshold for private sector candidates. Hence, the Presidential Election 2017 (PE2017) was consigned to a walkover for the PAP government-endorsed candidate.
I was not angry as much as I was disappointed at the way the ruling government push through complicated changes which all but assured that the preferred choice for the next president was appointed and not elected. I felt a profound and pervasive sense of sadness – how did we end up like this?
Prima facie, it is hard to argue that no tenets of democracy and meritocracy – key pillars undergirding Singapore as a nation and society – were undermined. Many Singaporeans would have celebrated the victory of Halimah Yacob with great and genuine joy if she were given the opportunity to contest and campaign against other candidates (she would probably have won with a decent margin, given her track record and her affable demeanour). Instead, she was denied the dignity of winning the PE2017 and becoming President by dint of her merits and mettle.
Read more here.
Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to GP and student life.
To view tutors recommended by him, click here.
GP model essays here.
English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.