Who can be the Future President of Singapore?

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.


21 comments on “Who can be the Future President of Singapore?

  1. Hi JJ,
    “It will take a special person to fill that role, and that person may not be willing to do so.”
    I wish I know who this person is. I would vote for this minority candidate. Would not future PE turn into a racial election as the minority candidate is visible unlike in GRC? And perhaps divide the nation further? And did anybody explained: Why is the President’s term is six years and not five? It would be good to follow up with the GE after five years so the if a rogue party is voted in, the ppl can vote in the right candidate to hold the second key. This is to safe guard the ppl of Singapore.
    You write well and balance. Continue to write. The ppl of Joo Chiat will appreciate on local social issues such as foreigners, food, school issues and whether do you face the problems MP Chen SM did. Reach out and be voted in by a wide margin come next GE.
    Thanks for sharing the article, JJ.

    • Thanks Snowball.

      I do have another blog site: joochiattoday.wordpress.com where I bring out issues related to Joo chiat. However, as NCMP, I do not have a constituency to look after nor access to community resources. I happen to live inside Joo Chiat SMC and hence I do move about the area and see what I can help in the community.

  2. Would having an appointed President eliminate the rifts between our fellow countrymen? Does ignoring problems/issues make them go away? Won’t having an appointed President merely bring the country back to the days when PAP had all the answers, and we shall not question their logic? Those days didn’t solve any of the issues, merely swept under the carpet where they were allowed to fester. Much of the frustration of that festering can be felt in the recent GE and PE. Isn’t it always better to alow society a venue to air their emotions and thoughts, and thus allow the leaders to make decisions (or explain their unpopular decisions) that will benefit the majority? Isn’t that what democracy is about?

    I think this year is the 1st time SGeans ever had to exercise their democratic right. I believe its a good chance for our nation to grow. In fact, it is because our nation has grown in maturity that we have been demanding more freedom to choose our leaders, question their decisions, and seek accountability. It would be a sad day if we went back to becoming a ‘nanny state’, where we had no say on who speaks for us. I believe SGeans are mature enough (minus the trolls) to understand that this is democracy in action, and this does not mean our fellow SGeans’ differing views are nothing but hot air (again, minus the trolls! haha!).

    • If I may, I don’t think Mr Yee is saying that having an appointed president will make the rifts (real or imagined) in our society go away. What he is trying to argue is that the recently-concluded PE, while purported to be non-partisan and apolitical, HAS already become partisan and political. And he correctly questions if there is a need for the entire nation to politicize a supposedly non-political process.

      As Mr Yee correctly puts it, the elected presidency was a construct of the ruling party, to begin with. The need to put this office up to the popular vote lay in its function of holding the second set of keys to our reserves (ie. only an individual with a popular mandate can be guardian of the national treasure chest). Other than that, the President has very limited powers as prescribed by the Constitution. That the ruling party has had to come out several times to clarify the limits of an Elected Presidency is revealing – the post was never meant to be the “second seat of power” that could effectively “check and balance” the executive that so many voters wanted to turn it into. In fact, the EP construct has come back to bite the ruling party. It was originally meant to keep a “profligate”, “rogue” (read: non-PAP) government under control by disallowing any dips into the reserve; little did they imagine that the voices calling for greater political diversity would seek to “check and balance” the current government with that very same seat!
      But this begs the question: why try to check the PAP regime with a seat that wasn’t intended, and was never granted constitutional powers, for that purpose?

      I can appreciate your point about democracy. But democracy is not a function of the number or types of elections held. We’ve had elections throughout nearly 5 decades of independence; that doesn’t make us any more “democratic”. A mature democracy requires a healthy civil society. It is what enables us to air our views and grievances, and to discuss our problems and aspirations; sadly, it is also what we are severely lacking. Going to the ballot box without having a basic grasp of the issues confronting us – because we are not encouraged, as a society, to have a better understanding of them – is not my idea of a properly-functioning democracy.

      I, too, agree that I do not want to see the return of a nanny-state. But nanny-statehood is as much about oppressive governments as it is about people’s mindsets. It is almost painful to read the online comments on socio-political blogs these days. Because while a lot of the criticisms are completely valid, the way they are penned nearly always reveal a “gahmen owes me” mentality. So, when the “gahmen” fails to return what it “owes” us, we turn to voting for the messianic Opposition (with a capital letter O) as a panacea to the world’s problems. And guess what? We expect the Opposition (with a capital letter O) to deliver on every single promise that the ruling party didn’t (read: resolve all MY problems, IMMEDIATELY like yesterday, in a way that favors ME ONLY ME. And if you don’t, you “talk big only”, “are only interested in your 15K/mth allowance”, “election time say this say that, afterwards no sound no picture”).

      Nary a thought goes into whether these demands are reasonable. Never a sense that issues take time to resolve, and cannot go away at the wave of a wand. And best of all, not an inkling that some of the solutions to these crises can be found on their own, without having to trouble Father, God, or some flying Spaghetti Monster in the Sky. To a huge extent, so many of us are living in the mnental prison that the ruling party has built over the years that we have become our own jailers. The mindset of our electorate is nanny-statehood at its pinnacle, and until we are able to change this, no number of different types of elections is going to push us towards a more mature democracy.

      I apologize if I’ve gone on tangent, or written more than is expected for a reply to another poster’s view. The last two elections were supposed to make me feel like I had a stake in this country, which I’ve all but physically abandoned. But as time went by, I felt more hopelessness than hope. No offense was intended, and I hope you don’t take offense either.

      More good tears!

      • I appreciate that the articulation of your observations are perspicuous and objective. As much as I’m refreshed by the diverse voices emerging from the recent elections, the malice, lack of civility and immaturity in the vitriol have been most frightening and exasperating to me. We have a long way to go to be a mature electorate who can agree to disagree and not tear one another apart because our ideologies differ. There’s no absolute right and wrong in ideologies and we need to learn to listen to one another and realise that we all care for Singapore, although our perceptions are not the same.

      • Anonymous, I totally agree with you on the “gahmen owes me” mentality.

        I really wonder who these demanding commenters are. They are frighteningly self-entitled. They criticize so much but their opinions reveal a lack of maturity as a thinking people. I think our democracy can improve not only as a government, but also as a democratic society. It’s a tangential point but still a really relevant one!

        YJJ, thanks for being a voice of reason amongst “cowboy towns” because there are those who really appreciate a sensible, moderate Opposition 🙂

      • BTW, your description on people desiring to be saved by the alternative party took the words right of my mouth. As much as I admire and support Mr Chen Show Mao, the adulation accorded to him amuses me – they really made him to look like Jesus (forsaking his lofty position to come and identify with us and save us from oppression)! Perhaps it’s for our own good that we realise sooner that Mr Chen is and cannot be the political Saviour we are looking for, just as Jesus did not come to save the Jews from the Roman rule.

      • Hi Elizabeth

        None of us in the alternative camp (as least those I know in my party) sees ourselves as saviours. We offer our services to present alternative ideas and also to check the ruling party. In a democratic system, it is up to the people to decide.

        Having now entered politics, I see first-hand how emotions can run very high on both sides of the camp. I have been booed at and scolded by people I meet for wanting to rock the boat. The same has happened to my PAP opponents, perhaps more vocally because there is indeed a group of fairly angry people with their own reasons for the anger at PAP.

        However, I would say that Singaporeans as a whole are still discerning enough to judge parties and candidates in a calm manner. These are the people that will decide the race in a first-past-the-post system, negating the extreme voices.

      • [Uh, this wasn’t meant as a reply to my own reply, but I couldn’t find any more reply buttons under Mr Yee’s post… ]

        Elizabeth – I share your exasperation. And to a large extent, I think the ruling party has a role to play in this. Curtailing freedom of speech and expression is akin to keeping the lid down on a pot of boiling water; sooner or later, everything will just bubble over. I’ve always maintained that if people were allowed to speak their mind, we learn to better exercise self-censorship, which includes putting others in place for being rude and/or uncivil. All these years of Big Brother playing the main censorship role has only led to worms crawling out of the woodwork that is the I-net.

        Joyce – Thanks. Forget about all the policy blunders; the inculcation of the “gahmen owes me” mentality via a social compact that encompassed relinquishing all our civil and political rights in exchange for the good life is, IMHO, the saddest legacy the ruling party has given us. It has effectively discouraged self-reliance and the ability to look within ourselves for answers. There isn’t much point in a democracy where voters wallow in a sense of victimhood, leave all the thinking, doing and analyzing to the “gahmen”, and then attempt to “punish” the incumbent by voting Opposition. Even if you do get different ruling parties, it is merely replacing one dynasty with another.

        Finally, Mr Yee – Thanks for allowing me to air my views on your blog. =)More importantly, appreciate your serving as a reasonable voice in this highly-charged atmosphere. I truly believe that the spirit of entrepreneurship you constantly advocate is one of the most important things that will allow us to move forward as a nation, simply because it is predicated upon, among others, the courage to take risks and the willingness to take ownership.

      • Hi Mr Yee, I’m not implying that in the WP party reckon themselves as saviours, but that people might have imposed undue expectations on all of you as seen through their reactions. As rightly pointed out by you, the elections have led emotions on an overdrive (I’ve seen it in myself!). And it’s the angry people who make the most noise or do the darnest things. Sometimes we just need to take a step back and look at things rationally.

        I’m heartened by the hope offered in the high calibre of candidates seen in you and your comrades and I do hope that there would be visible positive changes in the political landscape in the long run.

  3. i would love to see george yeo vs Tan Jee Say(Lucy) in the next PE.The president has to be someone of proven track record and not just anyone propelled into stardom without a fight.I think TCB will be too old by the next PE and TKL oh well…Yes this PE has shown that plp are taking a genuine interests but I think it happened too fast after GE,it would have kept our political scene warm if it was in the next year.

    However,I think it has shown that most Singaporeans are still resistent to change and I mean wholesale change as the 70% has shown.Though after Joo chiant,PP,this is a hatrick that we have one of the most razor-thin margins,it feels like a penalty shoot-out or a tie-break. I

    ndeed 35% is never a convincing victory as this GE has split into 3 camps like what you mentioned-the prov-gov,neutrals and pro-opp.I would say had it not beena 4-horse race(like EPL,ahem should I say 3),the results would definately have been diff s the votes would have distributed to the CB camp.(not forgetting forfeited votes folks!)I would have really preferred uncle ‘Lucy” though. (“,)

  4. JJ, the election process is flawed and a couple of writers to the ST Forum have suggested revamping this process for the next PE should there again be more than 2 candidates competing. I agree that by virtue of a democratic election, the winner needs a mandate and this means at least 50.01% of the popular votes. 35.2% is not a mandate, and most definitely not clear because this implies that 64.8% of the popular vote is against the EP. One wonders whether if the recent PE had gone to round 2, would Dr Tony Tan’s votes still have remained at 35.2% ?!

    As for the issue of having a “minority” candidate running for elections… well, I don’t see that as a problem… Aren’t citizens all thrown in together in a “rojak” for >2yrs in National Service ? So the race issue shouldn’t be an issue so long as we have credible proponents.

    • Thanks for the comments. In case I am misunderstood, I like to say I am all for a minority race president. There were some good past presidents from the minority races. I merely restated the establishment’s position when they invented GRC to ensure minorities are represented in parliament. I can think of just a small handful of minorities currently able to hold their own in a gruelling contest like the one we just had. But realistically, they will have to work even harder than TT to win.

  5. I don’t really care much about this recent presidential election. What matters moreto me is given the voting results as shown in this PE, can the oppositions do better in GE 2016. As I see it, the real (or maybe the stubborn ones) opposition voters form only 25% of the total votes, this will be too small to make a significant inroads for the oppositions in GE 2016. My estimate of the swing votes is about 20% and this leaves the 55% voting for PAP. If nothing changes for this voting pattern, I think the opposition may not perform better in GE 2016 as compared to GE 2011.

    JJ, you have talked about this fear factor and my understanding of your fear is the perceived or actual fear of being penalized for not voting for PAP. I think there is another more important fear that you miss, which is the fear of change. Right now, I think over 50% of the population still believe without PAP, Singapore cannot survive, because no one can do a better job. There is fear that if people vote in the opposition, the condition in their housing estate will deteriorate.

    Whether you think this is reasonable or unreasonable, true or not true, I think this is the main psychological barrier that the oppositions have to help voters to overcome.It is a rather tough thing to do with a lot of patient, effort, quite a Herculean task. Unfortunately, this is not going to be a fair game to the opposition. Because PAP has a sort of track record, people are more tolerant of their mistakes, but not for the oppositions, which are judged in a harsher way because they have nothing much to proof.

    For the WP, it will be easier because it has a platform (winning 1 SMC and 1 GRC) and in future it can show voters at least WP has some experience in running housing estates. In my opinion, how well the opposition will perform in GE 2016 will be determine a lot on how well Aljunied GRC is being managed, how the oppositions perform in the parliamentary sessions. The real battle will be trying ways and means to reach out those swing voters, who unfortunately may not be accessible on the social media sites because they seem to be dominated by the 25% anti-PAP voters. Maybe, you have to do more of the house-to-house or face-to-face call, instead of waiting till the next election time to do this, because by then, you will have very little time. There are really lots of ‘homework’ or preparation work that needs to be done to win the battle of hearts. This has to be ongoing and you cannot do this only during the campaigning period when time is really limited.

    I really don’t believe Singapore has to do something to accommodate the minorities. Look, though Singapore is over 70%-Chinese, we are not racist. History can prove this! Singapore 1st Chief Minister is a non-Chinese – David Marshall, who is a Jew. Singapore’s 1st post-independence opposition MP, JB Jeyaratnam, is a Tamil. This GRC scheme is a nonsensical thing dreamed up to put additional barriers to the oppositions. It didn’t do anything much to help the minorities, often this is blatantly been used to ‘shoo in’ some 0f their favorite candidates.

    We need checks and balances and this can be done with more scrutiny, accountability, public debate. In other words, more transparency from the part of the government, investigative journalism or free press, more free flow of information. Not necessarily to have this done through the elected presidency. On this matter, I share the views of WP.

    What do you think?.

    • Hi Eng Hou

      Not advocating we do something special for minority if we want the president to be selected through election. Just musing that it will take a special person from the minority race to win. I can actually think of a few who could but they seem uninterested to. Previously when the position was ceremonial, we had it on a rotation basis, which is fine with me as well. It can throw up good presidents from all races through a selection basis too.

      On issue of fear, TCB referred more to fear amongst PAP camp who support him but are afraid to state it openly. You are right there are various types of fear… fear of losing job and pension if voting against PAP in GEs, fear to stand up as alternative candidates in elections and fear of embracing change (“don’t rock the boat”). All these fear add to PAP vote count.

  6. i find it disturbing that half a million actually voted for an unproven candidate like TJS, who listed one of his notable accomplishment as being a RI prefect. !?!

  7. Constitution should be amended to allow for minority/female candidate to be elected on a level playing field.

    Otherwise there would not have been Eurasian, Indian or Malay Presidents like we had in our history.

    One term for minority and/or female candidates.
    Next term open to all.

  8. Pingback: Articles on Presidential Elections – the Good and the Bad « My Life, Your Song

  9. @”We will create more division amongst the population by making the president go through a gruelling nationwide contest.” Yee JJ

    1. Division is not the same as polarization. Polarization (5-1-4) tends to be negative and non constructive but plurality and diversity (3-4-3) means there are ample opportunities and room for consensus to move the agenda. Therefore, throwing “divide” and “unify” around oversimplifies and exaggerates the situation at the same time.

    2. Confrontation, a term wildly thrown around in the media to invoke fear, is not to be confused with public disagreement, question and challenge. Confrontation is actually hostile conflict with defiance. Confrontation is not the same as public challenge suggested by Tan Jee Say.

    3. Political instability, another term like confrontation easily thrown around by the establishment, actually involves violent elements such as armed social unrest, uprising and violent overthrow of government. These include armed conflicts such as the rebellion in Libya, Taiping Rebellion against the Qing, and widespread social violent riots in the countryside. Those are the real political instabilities, not a frivolous change of party in running the government after elections. It’s a hyperbole after looking at how foreign leaders use the term “instability” as opposed to local politicians referenced the term “instability” especially near elections as to suggest that a change of party at the polls “causes” instability must mean the establishment has no confidence in the social institutions to remain in place if they lost power. The point is instability weakens and destroys the social institutions that allow the country to function such that widespread and severe lawlessness, destruction in property and violence permeates.

    4. Elections are not the CAUSE of any divisions or polarizations; they are mere results of past and existing policies and the status of society. This is especially true in a society like Singapore that is not entrenched in political ideologies (left against right) coupled with heavy hand and extensive reach of the State policies on the lives of the people. Remember that Singapore has one of the highest social equity amongst rich countries; a high foreign born population also adds to differences. Did existing and past policies created, added or have no effects on those differences? Thus, the solution is to deal with the policies that created the longer term differences, rather than try to deal with transient emotions after the elections.

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