SINGAPORE: The notion that the President of Singapore is not meant to be a check on the Government, promoted by certain high-profile individuals, has sparked discontent among some Singaporeans who feel that the already limited powers of the presidency are being further curtailed.
Last Wednesday (14 June), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching, was censured online after she said on Facebook that the role of the President “is not to be an independent voice, a check on govt, or an ombudsman to all the woes and ills of society.”
Presidential hopeful George Goh Ching Wah then echoed the PM’s wife when he suggested that checking on the government is unnecessary. He told reporters: “You can’t check on the government, because you know, the Prime Minister Office is an executive power, it’s like the brain. The President, to be bound by the Constitution, is like the heart. These work together.”
“Don’t go inside and check… the Prime Minister elected by the people. You must trust him. He appointed his own Cabinet, he lead the MPs, you must trust him. We give the mandate of five years to the Prime Minister. Regardless, we must stand together with him.”
His views came as a surprise to some Singaporeans who felt that it conflicted with his campaign’s messaging that he will be a staunchly independent figure, especially as compared with Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who has also made a bid for the head of state seat.
Asserting that his promise to be an independent candidate does not mean he will act as a check to the Government, Mr Goh added: “So when I mean ‘independent’, I mean I’m a candidate (who is) independent, so don’t get it wrong.”
Both Mdm Ho and Mr Goh’s views have triggered questions on the relevance and purpose of the presidency in Singapore’s governance system if the President is meant to be a mere figurehead.
Some have also pointed out that the notion these individuals promote is contrary to the Government’s own White Paper, which states that the President will require a popular mandate if he is to “have the authority to act as the custodian of the nation’s reserves and be an effective check against governmental action, should the occasion arise”.
Editor and noted socio-political commentator Andrew Loh captured the prevailing sentiment online as he said on Friday (23 June): “It is puzzling to see how George Goh has fallen for the nonsense spewed by the likes of Ho Ching who claims the president is not an independent check on the govt.
He questioned: “If the president is not, then what the hell is this whole elected presidency for? The president could have remained as purely a ceremonial one.”
Mr Loh is among several netizens who feel that Mr Goh has “capitulated” to the ruling party’s narrative with his recent comments. He added:
“Tharman, simply, cannot be a check on the govt because he has been a PAP member for 22 years, as a minister since 2001, is the current MAS chairman, and concurrently deputy chairman of the GIC. He remains so until 7 July, about 2 months before he assumes the post of president, if he wins in September.
“It is a joke to even suggest that an ex-PAP minister who remains minister until practically the day he becomes president, is able to suddenly turn around and become a check on the same PAP he has been a member of for more than 2 decades, and on the institutions he led just 2 months earlier.”
Echoing the call for Mr Goh to sort out his campaign messaging as soon as possible, Mr Loh said: “George Goh has an opportunity to be an independent president, but not by parroting the PAP’s misleading claims about the powers of the president.”