The hotly contested PE begs a hard question – who can be the next president of Singapore after Dr Tony Tan?
Gone are the days where there will be no contests or meek contests. We saw how fiercely GE2011 was contested. PE2011 was no different. Some said it was because PE2011 was so soon after GE2011. It is not necessarily so. There is a louder cry for voices from the ground to be heard. There’s boldness amongst higher calibre people to stand as candidates for the alternative voices in elections, be it GE or PE. If PE is held in a different year, it will likely still be as hotly contested.
The establishment threw up a candidate with impressive credentials, one that was Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s original choice for his successor as prime minister. Dr Tony Tan was a former deputy prime minister and has a string of achievements in running large organisations and financial matters. Yet he drew only 35.2% of the valid votes, winning by the narrowest of margins. I think any lesser candidate may not have made it.
In 2017 or 2023, who can be the establishment’s choice after Dr Tony Tan retires?
I next wonder how many of the past presidents we have had could be elected in today’s situation. One of my favourite presidents, Mr Wee Kim Wee had a low public profile prior to his appointment as president. He proved to be very popular with his genuine desire to help the people. He would likely not have been elected given his low profile. We would not know how good a president he would be until he became one. Probably not Dr Benjamin Sheares nor Mr Yusof bin Ishak as well. Mr S.R. Nathan went through without contest twice. I leave readers to form their own conclusions about his chances against someone like Dr Tan Cheng Bock or Mr Tan Jee Say in a one-to-one contest if he had to be a fresh unknown candidate in this contest.
Mr Ong Teng Cheong and Mr Devan Nair were seasoned politicians. They knew how to run campaigns and had high public profiles before becoming presidents. They would have the chance to be elected. Indeed, Mr Ong was the first elected president. The contest was much meeker then.
We had ceremonial presidents for a long time, from our independence till 1993. We had selected the presidents carefully to fulfil ceremonial duties. These are nevertheless important duties as the president represents our country. His and the first lady’s photographs hang in every government institutions. The president represents us to meet with the heads of state of other countries. The president has to be the pride of the nation.
For the purpose of providing a second key, we now make our presidents now go through gruelling elections. Elections in the past may be meek and controllable. In the future this may not be so. In a tough campaign, accusations will be thrown. Their images may be damaged. Politicians are hardened people. They have gone through contests in the past. Three of the candidates in this PE had been politicians. We saw what happened to the non-politician candidate.
The establishment justifies having GRCs by saying that we need minority races to be represented in parliament. Someone with great political wisdom foresaw long ago that it would be difficult for minorities to enter parliament in single seat contests.
The presidential election is like a huge single seat contest. By the establishment’s argument, does it mean we will never have a minority race president again? We had some good minority race presidents in the past. I can think of perhaps a few from the minority races who may be popular enough and experienced enough in campaigning to win in a gruelling national level contest. It will take a special person to fill that role, and that person may not be willing to do so.
In every general election, we are ‘warned’ by the establishment there could be freak results. We can have freak results in presidential elections as well. That begs the question of what is a freak result. Freak by whose standards? We see emotions running very high now, with people calling 35.2% not a mandate. Those whose preferred candidate did not get elected will call it a freak result. What if it had gone the other way and TCB won by a whisker? Would the other camp start calling this a freak result as well?
By having presidential elections, we will inevitably narrow our choice of who can be our president. We will create more division amongst the population by making the president go through a gruelling nationwide contest. We need to ask ourselves if all these are necessary because of the second key, a concept invented after a poor GE1991 showing for the ruling party.