This letter was published in the Straits Times Forum page on 25 July 2011 (with minor editing).
I refer to the article "Don't Politicize the Role of the President" by Wan Wai Yee, Asst Professor in Singapore Management University. Prof Wan argued that the President should stay within the powers of the constitution and avoid “politicizing” its role. However, Prof Wan did not explain what he meant by "politicizing".
If someone offers a view that is different from the stand taken by the Government, will it be considered as "politicizing"? To find solutions that are best for the people, it is better to discuss issues openly and consider various points of views, before coming to a decision.
The Government and the President are elected by the people to perform their duties stated in the constitution – but the ultimate aim is to improve the lives of the people. The President is required to carry out certain specific duties that are intended to act as a check and balance on the Government, primarily to prevent abuse of powers and corrupt practices.
To exercise this power effectively, the President needs to be in touch with ordinary people that are affected directly by these issues. In doing so, the President may hear views that fall outside of his constitutional duties but are still important to the people.
I agree with Prof Wan that it is the primary duty of Parliament to discuss these issues and pass the necessary laws to implement the solutions. We should, however, be aware of the structural weaknesses in our current governance where, for a variety of reasons, many of the hot issues affecting the livelihood of the people were not actively debated in Parliament. It was only days prior to the last general election that the Prime Minister realized the extent of the unhappiness of the people and had to apologize twice for the shortcomings of his government.
It is likely that the newly elected Parliament will continue to face the structural issues and obstacles.
The elected President can play a useful role in being an additional channel for the people to bring legitimate issues to the attention of the Government. To rebuild the trust of the people and re-install pride in our country, the Government has to show that it is willing to hear the voice of the people and consider their views. The elected President can help in these tasks.
Tan Kin Lian