Sunday, July 16, 2017

Comedy of the Elected President

Three decades ago, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had a horrifying thought. What would happen to Singapore if one day, another party came into power and the Peoples' Action Party was kicked out of government.

He devised the concept of the Elected President with custodial powers on the use of past reserves and on senior appointments into the public service. This was intended to come into operation in the event of a change of government.

After President Ong Teng Cheong was elected as the first Elected President, things did not went as planned. President Ong was diligent in carrying out his duty. Although he was formerly from the PAP, he felt that it was his duty to check on the actions of the current PAP government. The relationship between President Ong and the government soured.

Act 1 of the comedy was an Elected President checking on the current government, that was not intended to be in the plan.

President S R Nathan was elected unopposed as the Elected President for the following two terms. Other candidates who were willing to stand for election were declared to be not qualified, i.e. not meeting the stringent qualifications specified in the constitution.

Act 2 of the comedy was an Elected President, who was supposed to have the direct mandate of the people, being elected unopposed, through a walkover.

The presidential election in 2011 was a watershed. Apart from the government supported candidate, three other candidates stood for election. It was a four corner fight. The winning candidate who was endorsed by the current government was elected with only 35.2% of the votes, which was only 0.3% higher than the second candidate. There was no provision for a runoff election

Act 3 of the comedy was an Elected President whose authority was supposed to come from a direct mandate of the people, assuming office with only 35.2% of the votes.

In the run-up to the presidential election in 2017, the government was adamant in continuing the comedy of the Elected President. They changed the constitution to raise the bar for qualification as a candidate and provided for a reserved election where all of the candidates have to come from a certain ethnic group.

Act 4 of the comedy was the concept of a reserved election in a country where the people live in harmony regardless of language, race or religion.

The change to the constitution also provided for increased powers given to the appointed members of the Council of Presidential Advisers. The government did not trust the Elected President and felt that they need to have another body to check on the Elected President.

Act 5 of the comedy was that the unelected members of the Council could override the decision of the Elected President in some specified instances. Their role went beyond advising the president

There is the likelihood that the next Elected President will be returned unopposed through another walkover. It is also possible that this Elected President, who was supposed to be appointed from a reserved ethnic group, may not be truly representative of that ethnic group. There are many mixed marriages in our multi racial society.

Act 6 of the comedy will be an Elected President who qualified through a reserved election turning out to be not purely from that reserved ethnic group.

Enjoy this comedy.

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