Saturday, August 06, 2011

Statement from Tan Kin Lian - Can the President speak?

I agree with the Law Minister Shanmugan on the duties of the President and how they are to be carried out, in so far as they are stated specifically and clearly in the Constitution.

I do not agree with his view that  the President cannot speak about anything else without the approval of the Government.

I find the Law Minister’s interpretation to be too narrow. It seemed to give the President less freedom of speech than an ordinary citizen of Singapore.

I wish to assure the Law Minister and the Government that, if I were elected as President, I would carry out the duties within the constitution and to bring issues of the people to the Government in a constructive and cooperative manner, and will help to find the solutions that are best for the people and for the Government as well. I believe that in most cases, there are many areas of common interest between the Government and the people.

I also pledge to the people that I will bring up issues that are legitimate and affect large numbers of people. I will be “the voice of the people” in conveying these issues to the Government.

I urge the Government to adopt a more open approach towards the issues of the people. There is no need to politicize these issues. If they are legitimate issues, let us adopt an open and constructive approach to solve them. Many of these issues are best solved when they are discussed openly in a forum and bring the views of the impartial experts and also the views of the people who are affected by them.

An open approach is more likely to bring better solutions. It allows the people to be engaged and understand the issue better. It removes suspicion and builds trust. This will be for the better of the future of Singapore.
I have looked at the constitution earlier about whether the President can be the voice of the people to bring issues to the Government. I do not find any requirement that the President should be “dumb”. I have also received advice from a lawyer who looked at the constitution and he confirmed my understanding.

I shall ask the lawyer to go through the constitution one more time to see if there are clauses that have been overlooked by me, and that support the interpretation of the Law Minister that the President cannot speak on any issue that differs from the actions taken by the Government.

If the reading of the constitution is not as narrow as stated by the Law Minister, I will proceed to contest the election (provided that I get the certificate of eligibility) and let the people decide if they wish to elect me on my platform to be the voice of the people and to work with the Government in a constructive and cooperative manner.

I believe that the Government will also find it wise to cooperate and respect the office of the elected President, in the interest of the people of Singapore.

Tan Kin Lian


andrewtungsk said...

I do not read law but I am 100% certain that the President of Singapore can say whatever he wishes to say without seeking permissio from the Cabinet. Reason:
This country claims to be a Democracy and in a democracy anyone can say what he wishes to say. If he chooses to say things irresposibly he will have to face the conseqences. Nevertheless he has the right to say whatever he wishes to say. Logical?

Hermit said...

Hi Mr Tan, I find nothing in the constitution that prevents the Elected President from speaking up, even if it is against govt's polices.

In fact, the President has the power even to appoint who should be the PM. Yet, PAP has always appointed one for themselves and in the past, and the President simply endorses it.

The President's powers affects the govt as much as the govt's powers affects the President. That's the objective in of the Elected President in the first place when it was introduced in the early 1990s - to create a balance of power.

Law Minister Shanmugam wants to play by the constitution, let's play by the constitution

Singapore's 5 Minute Investment Diary said...

My fellow Singaporeans.
Ref. Straits Times, 6 Aug 2011, page A16.

I saw the photo of a roomful of very clever, high priced local talents. All seated in deep contemplation over 2 scary questions;

1. Should the President speak up?
2. What if the President crosses the line?

The brain power and earning power in that room is immense.

I just ask whether the talents and brains are using their gifts in asking and solving the right questions and problems facing Singapore today.

Singapore's 5 Minute Investment Diary said...

Dear Mr Tan
May I make the following suggestion for your consideration. It may not be to your advantage to post this comment.

Consider avoiding a "wordy and rational" debate with the Law Minister & PAP government on the Presidential role. You are attacking them where they are strongly fortified.

Focus the discussion on the relevant paragraphs of the Constitution.

If the Law Minister say you cannot do this, act Presidential and ask him which section of the Constitution is he referring to?

If you say you want to do this, quote the relevant section of the Constitution.

Switch the battleground to what the Constitution actually says. That is your high ground. No Law Minister can challenge the Constitution unless he initiates a Constitutional Amendment through Parliament.

The debate will then have to shift to what the Constitution actually says. This will level the playing field. Nobody has an advantage.

And the Singapore population can read the Constitution themselves and can also decide the merits of the debate.

You may need a lawyer friend to help you with some of the interpretation of the language of the Constitution.

Its ME said...

In Singapore, there are disclosures, but the details of public finance remain mostly hidden behind official walls because under Singaporean law the public has no rights to such information. Current Law Minister may and should look into areas and issues like above and amend the present law in our country to encourage more constructive proactive citizenry, for there are more local talents among the locals than he could imagine, comment and speak with due respect to the office of President, regardless of how smart or inside knowledge you may have. Minister Shanmugam, Pls stop your repeat 'lecture notes'in public forum of the same topic ,for you seems like giving 'tution' to apprentice Presidential hopeful , and that is not very good image for our President in the eyes of other countries leaders. The government of the day and the Elected President of the day, should set the highest standard example of mutual cooperation and respect for one another's office in management on the part of the ruling party and State directional Leadership on the part of Elected President, notwithstanding the executive and custodian power respectively. If the cabinet or president really want to improve the political and economical climate in our nation, thnk about this question: With the present ongoing widerning social inequality , what strategy will you suggest or use to unify the Singaporeans as a whole? I don't quite agree to the notion that it is only the duty and role of Elected President to unify our population as One Strong Nation but it is the responsibility of each and every individual citizen too. And to support all good and relevant policies in place to uphold and defend the sovereign of our Singapore for ourselves and future Singaporeans.

Dag said...

As a law student who has studied constitutional law, I must say that I am quite disappointed in Shanmugam. Nowhere does the Constitution state that the President cannot speak up on issues of national concern.

In fact, the Constitution grants all citizens the freedom of speech (Article 14). It would be absurd if a citizen could lose his freedom of speech simply by becoming the President. The freedom of speech is a fundamental liberty that is constitutionally entrenched, and can only be curtailed by clear words in the Constitution.

Of course, nothing in law is totally clear-cut. One could possibly argue that from the President's scope of duties and powers, one could infer a rule that the President is barred from speaking up against the Government. But this would be a very difficult argument to make, given that it requires restricting an explicit fundamental liberty in favour of an inchoate, unwritten rule. Shanmugam is certainly not justified in saying with such total confidence that the President will be violating the Constitution if he does speak up.

Arman said...

I truely agree with the statement....
Having a President that is powerless and eran a big fat better not to have one in the first place..
Its good to know that there are "a few good men" that think out of the box and HOPEFULLY the new elected president will make a different in the Country(as a leader of the country not a puppet)

Arman said...

Seem like the ministers are afraid of "something"...thats whay they are saying that the president's power are limited but the way....the bigger is still the President by rank and file...
Just imagine in Army or any organisation the head is always quite and the lower ranks are making the call...whats going to happen.....

Alan Wan said...

Are our PAP leaders shooting themselves in the leg again ?

If our President can't even speak his own mind on issues of national interests, then why look for a person with the experience and capabilities of a CEO ?

Are they trying to tell us now that they don't expect CEOs to be independent minded or even charismatic in the first place ?

Charlie don't surf said...

Dear Mr. Tan,
If you look at the constitution closely, you will that there are already mechanisms in place for the President to publicly dispute govt. policies. For example, The President has the authority to veto the budgets of certain stat boards and govt. orgs. If he chooses to do this, he must by law reveal his reasoning in writing, and these reasonings must be published in the govt. gazette for all to see. Let’s say for example that you are the President. The HDB’s budget comes before you, but you refuse to sign it because you think it provides too many goodies to newcomers and none to S’pore citizens. You must state these reasons and they must be gazette for all to see. If this happens, do you think the govt. will stand idly by and meekly re-submit another budget for your approval? Or, will they mount a full scale media blitz highlighting their POV and denigrating your reasons? The latter, Is of course, a certainty. This will automatically drag the issue out into the public, and for both sides to give their viewpoint. For the Law Minister not to know this is frankly ridiculous. For him to say the President cannot speak about anything else when the constitution does require him to do so in certain circumstances is disingenuous of him.
If what he says is true, then why is Nathan allowed to publicly tell S’poreans “to appreciate foreigners and welcome them ………..” After all, the subject of foreigners and their large numbers and negative impact were a hot topic of the recent GE. It was very much a political issue, and we see in this case Nathan wading in on the side of the govt. Shan should first examine the sayings of his own President now, rather than worry about the possible sayings of future presidents.

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