ST Forum Aug 14, 1993: Banker Chua must be confident he can be President


I REFER to the report “Confirmed: Ex-banker to contest” (ST, Aug 7).

While I appreciate the brave move by Mr Chua Kim Yeow to offer himself as a candidate in the presidential election, I feel his motivation is not correct, at least from what I perceive from the press reports.

Mr Chua has himself said that Mr Ong Teng Cheong is “a far superior candidate”. Mr Chua said he was standing for election only upon the persuasion of former deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee and Finance Minister Richard Hu that the electorate should be offered a choice.

It is highly important that for such an authoritative position, the candidate must be convinced himself that he is the best person for the job.

Any candidate has a theoretical chance of winning the election. If Mr Chua is not convinced that he is better than Mr Ong, then how can the electorate be convinced enough to let him be president?

Judging by Mr Chua’s record, I feel he has far more financial experience than Mr Ong and should not allow Mr Ong’s Cabinet title and unionist position to overawe him.

According to the press reports, it seems Mr Chua does not intend to sell himself aggressively too. Such a situation would be greatly disappointing to an electorate looking forward to the first presidential election.

Worse, because he has been persuaded by Dr Hu and Dr Goh to stand, the opposition will take the chance to mock this as a PAP manipulated move to give the elected president moral credibility.

My message to Mr Chua is this: If you think you are the best person for the job, sell yourself to us. If not, pull out or the election will be a fruitless exercise.

YEE JENN JONG

——————– replies ————————-

ST, Aug 28, 1993: Mr Chua should show he wants President’s job

BERTHA HENSON

THIS column might be termed more aptly an open letter to Mr Chua Kim Yeow, the reluctant candidate for Singapore’s fifth President.

Like Forum Page letter-writer Yee Jenn Jong, I too am intrigued by the process through which Mr Chua has been persuaded to put his name up for the Aug 28 poll.

By his own account and that of Finance Minister Richard Hu, who persuaded him, he did not exactly volunteer himself.

Indeed some people believe the bureaucrat-turned-banker had his arm twisted, gently of course, to be the other man in the race just so it would not be a walkover for Mr Ong Teng Cheong on Nomination Day.

Mr Chua has asked for privacy – and the media has respected his wish. All that the voting public has to chew on so far was that he agreed to stand for President out of national duty, to provide a non-political alternative to the NTUC secretary general.

Perhaps bankers, civil servants and those in the business community who have had dealings with him will know what sort of a man he is.

For the ordinary folk, and many young people like me, he is just a name which comes with a long, albeit impressive, curriculum vitae.

Of course, the Constitution has provided a safeguard in the Presidential Elections Commission, which ensures that candidates have character and integrity and the wherewithal to do the job.

But it is not the PEC’s duty to ask Mr Chua if he has the political judgement to be a President who can deal with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

It is also not its job to ask what kind of a President he wants to be or, even, if he wants the job at all.

Mr Chua has said he will conduct a quiet campaign, without press conferences or rallies. If Singaporeans do not tune in to the two television broadcasts he will make, beginning with one tonight, or read the newspapers the next day, they will have no idea of the man who has suddenly surfaced from his retired life to stand for President.

I can only hope that he can pack into those 10 minutes tonight, when he addresses the nation, answers to these questions:

Is he standing for election only because he is asked to, or does he want the job?

Why is it important for an elected President to have no past political party connections?

Can he cite occasions in the past when he has shown astute political judgement?

Beyond exercising the veto powers of the President, how will he carry out his other duties as Head of State?

If Mr Chua is serious about his candidacy, keeping mum is not going to help his campaign at all.

It is not likely that the ordinary folk will tote up his numerous appointments and see if they measure up to Mr Ong’s equally impressive list.

Yes, some will vote for him on the principle that he has never been a party man. But such high-faluting ideals are probably held by the few in the intelligentsia.

I suspect that many of the votes that go to him will be merely protest votes against the PAP Government, which Mr Ong has long been associated with.

That would be regrettable. The Elected President should enter office because Singaporeans accept him and believe he can do the job.

Some people would say that Mr Chua is in a difficult spot. He was persuaded by the Government to stand so that the electorate would have a choice of two good candidates. But at the same time, the ruling party has said it would prefer Mr Ong to be the EP. How would Mr Chua be expected to campaign then?

It would be interesting to find out how he feels about the PAP’s position on his candidacy. What seems certain is that if he presents himself in a lukewarm manner, then people cannot but speculate that he has been asked to be no more than a sparring partner for the champ.

That would not do him or, even Mr Ong, any good. Sure, there is an electoral exercise. But what kind of a contest will it be when one man is a well-known figure with the formidable logistical support of the labour movement and the other, a largely unknown candidate who has thus far chosen not to sell himself to the voters?

Doubtless Mr Chua’s friends would say that Singaporeans should be grateful that he threw his hat into the ring in the first place.

After all, only two of the 400 or more potential candidates who would have qualified applied to the PEC, and two others, both from the Workers’ Party, Mr J B Jeyaretnam and Mr Tan Soo Phuan, were disqualified.

That illustrates the perennial problem Singapore faces in not having enough of its capable sons and daughters enter politics willingly. Mr Chua could have enjoyed his retirement but agreed to contest instead.

Singapore’s civil society has yet to develop to the point when its institutions are able to throw up credible candidates and to campaign for them.

The exception, today, is the National Trades Union Congress, which chose to accept the sacrifice of losing its chief so the highest office in the land could be filled by an able man.

Perhaps, other professional bodies and social organisations would follow its lead in future elections, throw up their own nominees and back them actively during their campaign.

As for this particular election, Singapore has a choice of two men. Mr Ong’s backer, the NTUC, has told the public why it wants him as EP. He needs no introduction. His leadership, and his political and management skills are well-known.

It remains for Mr Chua and his backers to convince the people that he is fit for the job and, more importantly, that he wants it.

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