Elected Presidency will be an albatross around government’s neck

Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah


With the shamelessly choreographed election of President Halimah Yacob now over, has the government won the battle but lost the war for the hearts and minds of thinking Singaporeans? It may have. No script master can anticipate every audience reaction. So expect more of the same skin-saving manoeuvres in the years ahead.

The whole thing was a massive calculated risk, not just for the ruling People’s Action Party but also for the long-term interests of the country. Will it now backfire badly?

Will the 1.37 million Singaporeans who did not support the previous President Dr Tony Tan in 2011 feel they have been deprived of their constitutional right and return to bite the government even more painfully in either the next General Elections or Presidential Election? Or will we end up with a population of apathetic citizens who are at the same time increasingly cynical about their ability to have any say in affairs of the state?

Government leaders seemed to have acknowledged the risk. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said it was highly controversial and he noted the “unhappiness” surrounding the electoral process. How right he was.

Minister in the PMO Chan Chun Sing said: “We are prepared to pay the political price, because we think the future of our country is much more important than any political capital that we may have.”

So, what have we just witnessed these past few weeks? Were we watching a bite-the-bullet act of altruistic heroism by a rather-be-right-than-popular government? Entirely admirable. Three loud cheers, if that’s the case. Or were we the victims of yet another ram-down-your-throat exercise of authoritarian overkill? Unacceptable today. A thunderous boo.

I think neither.

This is not an entirely confident government, surprisingly. Otherwise, the Malays-only PE could just have been carried forward to 2023, to allow another open competition for 2017. Whether Dr Tan Cheng Bock could make it to the Istana this time, we cannot be sure. There may be better candidates.  But the democratic right of Singaporeans to exercise their vote should not have been denied.

Madame Halimah Yacob, her undoubted abilities notwithstanding, is, unfortunately, merely a pawn in a high stakes gamble. It is not the so-called risk of losing some votes or popularity that the government is worried about. It is the possibility of having a non-team-playing head of state who, at best (from the current government’s point of view), asks too many inconvenient questions or, at worst, is simply too disruptive in his articulation or posture for the PAP’s liking.

Such a risk would be considered much too big to take. A mechanism to check a rogue regime inadvertently becomes a completely different animal and would upset the original idea of having a wise in-sync custodian holding a second key to the reserves and keeping watch over key public appointments. This was what Dr Tan Cheng Bock was more or less prepared to do – to question and speak up. He or someone else outside the trusted establishment would be considered disastrous for the government’s game plan.

Now, how has the government come to such a stage that it cannot command enough respect to take on all comers in an open contest with whomever they anoint as their candidate? It has the best talents. It should have its finger on the popular pulse, always quick to address grievances. It has a track record of achievements. It has the whole mainstream propaganda machinery under its wings. Why is it so lacking in confidence? Didn’t it win 70 per cent of the votes in the last GE?

My theory is: It had no choice. Do something or die. The Elected Presidency in the last election – in fact, during Ong Teng Cheong’s time – took on a life of its own and became something the government did not envisage. So everything went back to the drawing board. And out came a couple of changes, including stronger eligibility rules and an enhanced Council of Presidential Advisers to “advise” the President. Plus might as well throw in a Malays-only race to buy some time before the next PE.

But, despite PE2017, the Elected Presidency may yet become an albatross around the government’s neck in the long term. The desire to check unbridled authority will find its way to the Istana.

The pent-up sense of frustration and insult – among Malays and non-Malays alike – that has surrounded the pseudo-Melayutrocratic PE 2017 will build up towards the next GE or PE and shock the scared-stiff establishment.

That’s my Big Bang prediction.

Cheers to Garbine Muguruza, boo to F1

What’s the link between the F1 SIA Singapore Grand Prix and Garbine Muguruza?  Both like to come here.

But I am more excited about one of the world’s top women players coming to the Republic next month than the F1 circus that has invaded the city over the weekend.

The stunning looking Spaniard Muguruza will be making her fourth appearance here. She seems to have developed a love affair with us. Muguruza, the current Wimbledon champion, said she was pleased to qualify for the WTA Finals: “Every season, one of my main goals is to qualify for Singapore.” Only the top eight singles players and top eight doubles teams will get to come here.

Muguraza, originally from Venezuela but moved to Spain at the age of 6,  has been called the Spanish Russian: “Women from Eastern Europe and Russia, they’re taller and they hit hard and they’re very aggressive. Spain is completely different. I’m tall [6 ft.] and have long arms and hit the ball hard. So they were calling me the Spanish Russian because they didn’t understand why I was playing like that.”

We look forward to seeing her, long arms and all, but dread the F1 which has totally disrupted the traffic downtown – inconveniencing uninterested Singaporeans to no end.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.


  1. On contrary, we wear the albatross when we fail to see the curse of this surreptitious EP installation. When the odds are stacked against us in the parliament with the laws and changes and appointments in civil service, we need a movement. Standing in protest in a permitted space is not the answer.

    • No. Democracy and meritocracy were dead since Mr LKY passed on. The unfillial son make use of the mourning period to run the GE2015 to get more sympathetic votes. Then he make use of the mandated and now run things to his liking.

  2. They do this like some controlled experiment. So that they can gauge the amount of outrage generated and also to get the people desensitized or accustomed to a certain new level of status quo in the way “things are now like that”. I anticipate that the worse is yet to come for everyone in plutocracy Singapore.

    • Yes, Andrew. Fully agree with your views and ‘that the worse is yet to come for everyone in plutocracy Singapore’. The government will tough it out and the people will get used to it. In Hokkien: ‘Kwan See’ or getting use to things even if it is bad. How long more are the voters willing to bow down to the PAP politicians including the dishonourable son? WE are the TRUE bosses! WE pay them. Without us the PAP is NOTHING! Yes, I’ll repeat, NOTHING! I am deeply saddened. Greatly appreciate the SACRIFICE of our own fellow citizens who were jailed unjustly and bankrupted for telling the truth about the government. And, I’d salute the credible Opposition and citizen activists in Singapore today. THANK you! Never give up. You’ll win eventually! Yes, Singapore is a Police State. And, the judges are ‘pliant’ as said by Mr Li Sheng Wu, PM LHL’S nephew. And, in an impartial and bona fide court of law and with ALL facts laid out on the table for examination ………the CORRUPT PAP will be found Guilty As Charged! Equally important are jobs. Having personally known of people made unemployed because of the government’s policies the worse is yet to come. The UNJUST laws will be used to destroy us. This must stop! Therefore, get on Facebook or any of the social media websites and pile on the pressure. These outlets are FREE and DEMOCRATIC. Effective as well going by the experience in the developed world. Talk and decide amongst ourselves or individually if we truly want this Oppressive and Regressive PAP government to continue to stay in power. It is OUR CHOICE. OUR FUTURE. YOU DECIDE!

  3. Too many women leaders take the fall for the villians behind the scene. Don’t fall for that shxt Madam Halimah. Don’t follow the footsteps of ASSK, Mrs Bhutto, Gloria, Pak…don’t tarnish your image at the expense of being a scapegoat.

  4. Why none of the PAP MP in Parliament and all government elites did not raised any concern about a reserved Malay EP? Is it due to them being a captive of super high salary and the fear and concern to protect their high income their main concern and not public interest.

    Are Political Office Supreme High Salary against NATIONAL INTEREST?

    Does each Minister taking $2 million of taxpayers’ money home each year feel justified while fellow citizens struggle with some having difficulties to put food on the table with rising cost and taxes and jobless from retrenchment.

    Does Minister with 2 million dollar salary feel any empathy whilst tens of senior citizens committing suicide every year mainly from poverty.

    Does Minister with obscene high salary mostly denounced by the general public driving luxurious car to work give any concern of the high frequency of MRT breakdowns that cause misery to commuters even students late for exams.

    Does Minister with 2 million dollar salary feel they deserve this salary when Singaporean in the thousands are being retrenched and replaced by hordes of foreigners.

    Does a Scholar minister like Chan with 2 million dollar salary thinks that should he resigned today a private company or foreign bank will employ them with a 2 million dollar salary. Maybe Tharman will be the only Minister that the real private sector will pay 2 million or more.

    2 million salary is about 170,000 per month or about 5,500 dollars per day. Please tel how many of the Singapore 2.6 million voters earn this salary per day. The monthly salary is enough to buy 1 BTO HDB flat every month wherein a new buyer may take 20 years to pay off the purchase. Does ministers earnings of such high salary against the nation interest.

    You decide.

    Public service is a noble calling not a mercenary career choice; not a professional job where compensation is the primary criteria. If public service is all about how much you get paid then the office is corrupted by money there is no deep sense of passion and commitment and not willing to make sacrifices to improve the lives of others for their attitude and character to be self serving, even at the expense of citizen interest.

    • Kath that is the political sickness in Singapore and people should hold regular sit in at Hong Lim Park to remind all those highly paid government of their duties to serve the people and not keeping their eyes close to actions that betray Singaporean and make us looking like fools. Cut their salary and they start to cry why they should be highly paid – their only interest is to guard their gold plated rice bowl.

    • Diamond you are right they think they are entitled to Sky high salary and made worse they have no real interest to serve the people but themselves. All these scholars education are funded by tax payer money including the very poor thru indirect taxes. They are pushed through to attain top position before parachute to ministerial and top govt positions based on limited experience for not staying long enough to acquire depth and wisdom. Now receive salary that is so high like paid mercenary doing nothing much except thinking how to preserve their well being.

    • KarlsonExactly their rich bowl are gold 22k encrusted with precious stones kept in a vault no one can break except Laoda. They are captured birds in cages or held as hostages whose money will be lost if they fail to obey and use their brains to come up with pretty excuses to support whatever is required of them or rice bowl snatched away like demotion to speaker Parliament.

  5. Implications of Recent PE

    1. LKY explained that he implemented PE because he was afraid the a rogue political party can come to power by campaigning on free education, free medical care, free public transport…etc. Once in power, they can then raid the reserve to fulfill these promises. PE provides as another key to access to the reserve. To give legitimacy to the President, he is elected by the people.

    2. LKY was very clear and conscious of the danger of political parties playing the race card. Race card was a clear out-of-bound area, for very good reasons that do not need elaboration.

    In the recent Selected President, LHL circumvented PE turning it from Elected to Selected. And the reason to do that is by playing the dangerous Race Card and doing away with meritocracy. This same tactic may be used later by a rogue party to justify a PM based on race!

    The recent PE or rather SP is not about Mdm Halimah. It is about LHL setting precedence that makes Singapore more vulnerable. Trust LKY, he knew what he was doing.

  6. The unhappiness of many Singaporeans over the elected presidency I perceived are over the issue of meritocracy and change of constitution for qualifying president candidate rather than the race religion nor the person.

    I do not condone the comparison of our elected President to “albatross ” Infact President Halimah has my Utmost respect of a humble and not greedy politician. She earns more respect than some of my own race Chinese Politicians. A refreshing change in comparison to some of these grabber greedy politicians. Despite her high pay compensation she chose to dwell in HDB instead of living in GC bungalow which most of our Politicians do. Not only they live in one, many of them even have high gearing to own more private properties capitalising on greed of capital gains someday.

    • U are living in delusion. Rather than religiously swear by your beliefs, why not learn from some people that share their insights. To begin with you totally dismiss the point of having a president that actually serves his purpose, that is to guard our reserves and keep the gov in check. You seem to fully support cronyism and happy with a stale system where cronies are assigned to fill that important position. Like with most Singaporeans, you do not understand what democracy is about. Ong Teng Chong already sounded you out publicly that there IS a lot of shit happening and reserves may have been compromised. That was the reason why the had to ‘fix’ PEs after that. Get smarter will you?

  7. From a high pay, low profile Parliamentary Speaker living a sedate life, Halimah has morphed overnight into an omnipresent millionaire who is unequivocally SG’s most controversial President in 52 years.

  8. Disgraceful shameless Singapore….not my fucking president. I’m so embarrassed to be a Singaporean. If I have a chance to get out and live somewhere….I will fuck off from here. What is so good about here? Everything is orchestrated by the PAP and we have no say in anything. NOT EVEN ALLOWED TO VOTE FREELY. We should have only 3 stars in our flag now. I dared to say it again.

  9. Our 5 stars represent Democracy, Peace, Progress, Justice, Equality. Democracy….Where the fuck we have that? Can anyone tell me where we have democracy? Progress….are we progressing as we speak? I think we are moving to 1st world country now. Look at our MRT system? You can’t find a week that our MRT system doesn’t’ breakdown nowadays. It’s getting worst and worst and our minister in charge are getting a super high salary. There’s no accountability from our ministers when things go wrong in Singapore. No one dies…I mean. You think our ministers give a shit when our MRT breakdown? Justice…what justice do we have here? There’s never be a just in this world. I don’t need to elaborate much. Singaporean is not stupid and naive as what the government thinks we are. Equality….go figure this out. All i can say is we should only have 1 star which is Peace. The rest of the 4 is fucking bull shit!!!!!

  10. For every Politician it is not really about serving the people. But to keep the policy in check and maintain the standards. And the person to do so must be dedicated without any fear or favour to anyone. It’s a subjective concept and principle that underlie the governance of a country. People are corrupt so policy is what strengthens the rule and the changes to it makes it flexible when necessary. Nature allows plants and animals to grow and roam freely at the same time there is this other part of nature that is scary. Living in fear and in peace. Time chooses you

  11. I suggest you guys march on to PMO and face to face with PM and tell him what and how you feel about the PE. No point barking like DOGS in media social. If you guys got BALLS show it unless you have PUSSIES. Dont just be a KEYBOARD WARRIORS.

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