Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Singaporeans want an enhancement of powers for the future President.

The president, as provided for in the Constitution, has veto power in respect of the protection of national reserves, appointments of key personnel in the civil service, ISA detentions, CPIB investigations and the maintenance of religious harmony. Beyond these responsibilities he has to act in accordance with the advice of the prime minister and his Cabinet. For instance, the Law Minister asserted that the president cannot speak publicly without the advice of the PM and his Cabinet. This has raised a minor storm from the three presidential candidates other than Dr Tony Tan. Mr Shanmugam has since softened on his hard stand.

In the recent presidential hustings, apart from Dr Tony Tan who was considered a pro-PAP candidate quite comfortable with the constraints imposed by the Constitution on the president, the other three candidates were all very vocal against this circumscription. They were definitely voicing the strong dissensions of the majority of the voting electorate against these undemocratic restraints on the president's powers. They wanted the president to be able to initiate action on social issues, especially those on the poor people's livelihood. It is significant that one candidate wanted the president to have discretionary power to decide on the clemency of condemned prisoners. The case of Yong Vui Kong, who has gone through all the processes of appeals in the High Court and to the president for clemency over his death sentence for heroine possession, has generated considerable sympathy among Singaporeans for sparing his life. The outgoing president has no discretion but to act on the advice of the Cabinet. The new president will not be able to act any differently.

The three presidential candidates, other than Dr Tony Tan, had created such a furore with their animated stand against constitutional constraints on the president's powers that it could be ignored at the PAP Government's own peril now that the hustings are over. The events have clearly shown that Singaporeans are strongly desirous for a change to enhance the powers of the future president. The new president Dr Tony Tan will still be circumscribed by the Constitution but as he has said he will not feel uncomfortable with it. This is because of his close liaison with PAP leaders. He professes to be an independent president but how independent he can be will be interesting to watch.

Coming back to the enhancement of presidential powers, even the MSM Lianhe Zaobao, in its editorial on 30-8-11, is able to see this trend coming and advises the PAP Government that it cannot put off for long the desire of Singaporeans for an enhancement of the president's powers. The writing is already on the wall. The PAP Government can choose either to ride roughshod over the people's desire or to show a more democratic facade by preparing to accommodate the people's wish to see the future president's powers enhanced. Even the new president Dr Tony Tan is able to see this inevitable trend coming.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Cliffhanger Presidential Election

Despite the voluminous criticisms against him in the social media, the former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan still managed to scrape through with the slimmest of margin in the presidential election to become the seventh president of Singapore. Dr Tony Tan won by a minuscule margin of 0.34% or 7269 votes. With the massive support from trade unions and other establishment bodies and the tacit endorsement of the PAP Government, Dr Tony Tan's narrow victory can be said to be a irony of fate against a more worthy opponent Dr Tan Cheng Bock. There is a Chinese saying befitting Dr Tan Cheng Bock: Although defeated but still honourable (虽败犹荣). He had put in massive efforts in his campaign and not only his supporters but many Singaporeans will be extremely disappointed that he has been deprived of victory by the slimmest margin imaginable. Fate has been unkind to him for he would have made an excellent president with his independence of character.

Willy-nilly we are now saddled, through the intricacies of fate, with a new elected president whose independence of the PAP Government is never reassuring, given his PAP background. Will he turn out to be another S R Nathan whose tenure has been anything but illustrious. Of course Dr Tony Tan is the PAP tacitly-endorsed candidate and nothing pleases PM Lee Hsien Loong and his Cabinet colleagues more than his election as president as this removes a source of anxiety of a possible turbulent relationship with the presidency if any of the other three candidates was elected.

In his campaign Dr Tony Tan portrayed himself as a candidate with financial expertise and vast experiences in the corporate world and is the best person with a steady hand to handle the national reserves. He was careful to steer clear of problematic political and social issues that the three other candidates promised they would take up with the PAP Government, if elected. Dr Tan Cheng Bock's proposal to move the PMO and Cabinet Office out of the Istana particulary irked him. So could he be expected to initiate any issue with the PAP Government that will bring benefit to Singaporeans? His pet answer is that the president's power is circumsribed by the Constitution and that the centre of power is the PAP Government. So it will be interesting to watch how Dr Tony Tan will perform as the elected president of Singapore for the next six years.

It is surpising that Mr Tan Jee Say secured only 25.04% of the votes which could mean that a good percentage of the anti-establishment votes had gone to Dr Tan Cheng Bock. He would have made a good independent president considering his bold character.

Mr Tan Kin Lian managed to secure only 4.91% of the votes which could mean that he had neither pro-PAP nor anti-establishment voters' support. Right from the beginning he had shown concern that he could lose his deposit but the fact that he still entered the fray was something quite incomprehensible. But does he realise that he was in fact playing the role of a spoiler? His 4.91% of the votes could have gone to Dr Tan Cheng Bock which would have made all the difference for him to win the election. This is a guilt that Mr Tan Kin Lian will have to live down.

Finally, the message to the PAP Government is clear. Dr Tony Tan only secured 35.19% of the votes which means that 25% of the 60% of the pro-PAP votes in the last General Election has deserted him. With only one third of the electorate voting for him, it shows clearly that Singapore voters do not want a pro-PAP president. How the PAP leaders are going to reconcile this is something which they have to live with. Quite evidently, Dr Tony Tan just does not have the moral authority to represent all Singaporeans as their president.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is the People's Association a Political Tool of the PAP?

The People's Association (PA), as constituted, was glamourised as a politically-neutral organisation designed to mould Singaporeans into a patriotic citizenry. Its administration was paid out of taxpayers money so it owes its allegiance to Singapore taxpayers and by extension to Singapore voters. The CEO of the PA and his staff should be expected and duty-bound to be impartial when they have to deal with the opposition parties. They have been showing political bias towards the PAP but as long as they do not persecute or harass the opposition parties, the people tend to view it as a natural inclination of a slavish mind. After all, the PAP leaders are their political masters and the prime minister is the chairman of the PA.

The latest bouts of high-handed antics of the PA against the Workers' Party (WP) MP Chen Show Mao and the WP itself are something which any right-thinking Singaporean will feel revulsed. They are going beyond the realm of propriety and decency to please their political masters and no decent Singaporean would believe them if they disavow that their deplorable actions are not politically-motivated and an abuse of power.

Let's examine the facts. WP MP Chen Show Mao was invited in his capacity as MP by residents of his Paya Lebar Ward in Aljunied GRC to a Seventh Month dinner celebration . The Citizens' Consultative Committee (CCC) (which comes under the PA) in his Paya Lebar Ward told the organisers that they could not invite the WP MP to the dinner if it was held at premises under the CCC charge. As a result the invitation was withdrawn. The irony is that the defeated PAP candidate Madam Cynthia Phua can attend such dinners under the guise of PA's appointed grassroots adviser. We leave it to the people to judge if this kind of interpretation is not cockeyed and politically-motivated.

To make sure that the WP is politically ashyxiated, the PA in collusion with the Housing Development Board (HDB) transferred the management of 26 open spaces - mainly fields and hard courts often used for community events - from the WP Aljunied Town Council to the PA without giving WP any notice. This move would give PAP candidates a ground advantage and permanent presence in Aljunied GRC in advance preparation for the next elections.

As if all these are happening without his knowledge, if not at his instructions, PM Lee Hsien Loong is adopting the untenable attitude of "seeing no evil and hearing no evil". Neither the PM nor the relevant minister has the civility of saying anything in explanation or clarification, much less justification. They may bank on the possibility of Singaporeans not remembering this whole episode over time. But it still begs the question whether the PA is a political tool of the PAP.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Who is likely to capture the Presidency?

Who is likely to capture the Presidency? Will it be the former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan or former PAP MP Dr Tan Cheng Bock or the former NTUC Income chief Mr Tan Kin Lian or investment adviser Mr Tan Jee Say?

With all the excitement that has been whipped up so far in the election campaign and still with a few more days before polling day it may be a bit premature to give a definitive assessment of the chances of the four candidates. But initial assessment may show that Dr Tony Tan may be in an unassailable position. He has been pledged with support from trade unions, clan associations and Chinese, Malay and Indian Chambers of Commerce. But it does not necessarily mean that the rank and file of these unions and associations will heed their leaders in their choice. They may have their own personal preferences.

Not least of all, PAP leaders like PM Lee Hsien Loogn and ESM Goh Chok Tong have given Dr Tony Tan tacit endorsement which may bring him most of the 60% Pro-PAP votes. But Dr Tony Tan's stand on the Marxist conspiracy detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the graduate mothers scheme is going to go against him because of his untenable position.` He is just unable to extricate himself from his intricate position.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock has solid support of voters in Ayer Rajah Constituency but outside of it is an unknown factor. So far he has shown that he is a formidable opponent of Dr Tony Tan and has presented himself as a credible candidate for the Presidency. His idea of requiring the PMO and Cabinet Office to be moved out of the Istana complex if he is elected president has gone down well with the electors. This will cause quite a flutter to the prime minister and put him in a fix whether to move out of the Istana complex or not. Dr Tan Cheng Bock also has the support of leaders of some opposition parties in their personal capacity which means that his chances of getting some anti-establishment votes are quite good. His chances of being elected will depend on the percentage of pro-PAP votes he can hive off from Dr Tony Tan. His non-establishment votes are not likely to be significant.

Mr Tan Jee Say's candidature has been a source of consternation to the PAP leaders. In his campaign he has never ceased to remind voters that his mission as president, if elected, is to provide checks and balances on the PAP Government. But he has been careful to qualify that by saying that he will not be openly adversarial to the Government. He can be considered as the only candidate out of the four who is independent of the PAP Government. There is no reason not to expect him to get solid support from the 40% anti-establishment votes which may be just enough for him to secure the presidency. Imagine former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and ESM Goh Chok Tong having to stand up before Mr Tan Jee Say when approached by the latter if he is elected president, a former personal private secretary of DPM Goh Chok Tong in the civil service. It will be difficult for LKY and GCY to live down this appartent humiliation.

Mr Tan Kin Lian strikes one as an enigmatic candidate. He is a former PAP cadre but the PAP does not appear to be particulary impressed with his service to the party. He claims to be independent of the PAP but with his past PAP connection can he really expect Singaporeans to believe him? He is in a comical position where he can neither attract pro-PAP votes nor anti-establishment votes. He may believe otherwise. He can be so insensitive that he can go electioneering at a solemn memorial ceremony for the late political detainee Mr. Tan Jing Quee. He should consider himself lucky that he was not ejected from the gathering. He promises to be the voice of the people if elected. He is also concerned whether he will be able to secure 12.5 per cent of the votes so that he will not lose his deposit.

The hustings are getting more exciting each day and there will be more campaigning by the four candidates in the next four days. We will know on 27 August after polling has ended who is the lucky candidate to be the new elected president. Whoever he is should deserve the unanimous approbation of all Singaporeans. If Dr Tony Tan is elected, then the question of unanimous approbation is in doubt because he is the least of the four candidates that netizens want to see elected.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Prospects of the Presidential Election.

It could be said that the Presidential Elections Committee's (PEC) decision to give certificates of eligibility to four of the presidential hopefuls has come as a bit of surprise in terms of the timing and its liberal interpretation of the eligibility criteria. The four successful presidential hopefuls for the presidential election are former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan, doctor and former MP Dr Tan Cheng Bock, former NTUC Income CEO Mr. Tan Kin Lian and investment adviser Mr. Tan Jee Say. There were doubts that Mr. Tan Jee Say could not have met the eligibility criteria but that he has finally been able to qualify shows the liberality and progressive thinking of the PEC, which is a credit to its chairman and members.

If all four potential candidates seek nomination on 17 August, then Singaporeans will be presented with a rare spectacle of a four-cornered contest. Dr Tony Tan seems to lead with a substantial political advantage with the main stream media, especially the Straits Times, going on an overdrive in extolling has so-called merits as a potential president. He is in every respect a PAP Government-endorsed candidate, maybe one may like to describe it as tacitly but an endorsement nevertheless. He has also portrayed himself as eminently qualified, because of his so-called unique financial expertise and extensive administrative experience as a minister, to be elected as president by the Singapore electorate. He has been praised by PM Lee Hsien Loong as the most suitable candidate for president. So has also the Emeritus SM Goh Chok Tong heaped praise on Dr Tony Tan. Law Minister K. Shanmugam mentioned recently at an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) forum that the president can influence the PM if he is wise, knowledgeable, trusted and respected by the PM which prompted president hopeful Dr Tan Cheng Bock to interprete that only a Government-endorsed presidential candidate can wield influence with the PM. So how Dr Tony Tan is viewed by the Government as the next elected president is never in doubt.

Dr Tony Tan is also supported by the Tan Clan Federation and a number of trade unions, if not the NTUC itself. He is likely to be supported by pro-PAP voters who comprised 60.1 % of the voting electorate in the last General Election. But what percentage of support he gets will depend on whether Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr. Tan Kin Lian, both former PAP members, also receive support from the same pool of pro-PAP voters. It will be assumed that the 39.9 % of the anti-establishment votes will go to Mr. Tan Jee Say, a former Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) member who is contesting as an independent candidate. In the unlikely event that some of the anti-establishment votes would go to Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr. Tan Kin Lian, the number is unlikely to be significant to affect the prospect of Mr. Tan Jee Say.

The probable scenario is likely to be that no single candidate is going to win 50% or more of the votes to make him an outright winner. The deciding contest may be between Dr Tony Tan and Mr. Tan Jee Say. If the dilution of Dr Tony Tan's pro-PAP votes is not significantly large, he may have a better prospect of winning. But it is unlikely to be a shoo-in. Mr. Tan Jee Say's prospect of winning is equally strong if he gets the solid support of the anti-establishment votes.

We will know at the end of polling on 27 August if Singaporeans get a PAP-endorsed or an independent elected president.