Indeed, why bother?
The President of the Republic Of Singapore is 95% ceremonial and 5% custodial. Does it matter who then the president is? Does it really matter that for the 5%, the person has to have managed S$100 million dollar businesses etc? Does it matter that the president knows exactly how much Singapore has in its reserves? Would knowing that figure make a difference? Don’t we all make daily decisions on spending and have in our minds the checks and balances constantly running? Will it not be the case with governmental spending?
The former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, felt that it was important that the president be someone who can be a “keeper of the second key” in releasing funds from the reserves. LKY, given the absolute power his party had (and has) in parliament, pushed through the changes in the constitution to cater for an elected president with the explicit mandate (some say moral authority) to reject or approve reserve-releasing requests.
The citizens do not know how and when the government of the day requests for funds to be drawn down and for the president to agree. We hear that the unelected elected 6th president, S. R. Nathan (unelected, because he got into office unopposed because of the abomination called walkovers) approved 27 draw downs during his tenure. Did we know of these? Shouldn’t the system be transparent? Shouldn’t the Accountant General or the Ministry of Finance disclose this? Correct me if I am wrong about not knowing the many instances President Nathan agreed to release the monies.
So, if all the elected president’s moral authority by virtue of being elected by the people rests in the 5% of his role, what should matter is the 95% of his office. The president is the head of state. He represents the unifying, agreeable, approachable, almost fatherly figure for the nation.
The president represents the country to the world and is the holder of the highest office of the land. He has to be above all, accommodating of all views and be a great influencer to sooth coarse and sharp issues. He should reach out to all Singaporeans (whether in country or outside) to come to the rally call of Singapore.
As the US Naval officer of the 18th/19th century, Stephen Decatur said: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Or to put in another way, “my country, right or wrong, warts and all”.
So, likewise, the president. I recall on my enlistment day, over thirty years ago, I pledged allegiance to the President of the Republic of Singapore. When my sons enlist, they too would be pledging allegiance to the President. That means, I cannot afford to have a president who I cannot be proud of. I cannot have a president who comes across as uncouth, boorish, know-it-all and unwilling (or seemingly unwilling) to compromise.
I watched the televised statements from the four candidates last night. As I have indicated over the last seven or so days, I have been increasingly leaning towards Tan Jee Say over Tan Cheng Bock. But this last broadcast has caused me to change my mind. I am particularly thrilled to hear Tan Cheng Bock mention his wife as being part of his team and that should he become president, she will be a wonderful first lady. As my wife later noted to me, the fact that only Tan Cheng Bock acknowledged his wife and praised her was reason enough for my wife to vote for Tan Cheng Bock. Suffice to say, that gesture has also affirmed my vote for Tan Cheng Bock.
So, in about 10 hours or so, I will be casting my vote for the Seventh President of Republic of Singapore.
And the vote will be for Dr Tan Cheng Bock, President of the Republic of Singapore. And to President S. R. Nathan, thank you for your service.