Featured News PE2023: Get a real president this time, we have already wasted six...

PE2023: Get a real president this time, we have already wasted six years

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Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

Presidential Election 2023 is indeed in the air. The mainstream media have just started writing about it, naming some possible candidates. And on Wednesday (May 10), voters were given an idea of who would qualify to stand for election. Quite a number, it seemed.

Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing said there are around 50 public service positions that may fulfil the public sector service requirement to run in Singapore’s next presidential election which must be held by September. For potential presidential candidates looking to qualify under the private sector service requirement, there are more than 1,200 companies with average shareholders’ equity at or exceeding S$500 million. All this not counting each aspirant’s personal character background.

And the mainstream press has started speculating on who would be throwing his or her hat into the ring. 

For the time being, the MSM focus appeared to be just throwing names in the air, without much analysis of some of the issues surrounding the PE. One issue:  What has been the extent of the backlash among voters against having been forced to accept a Malay-only contest in PE2015 at the expense of a second chance for Dr Tan Cheng Bock who was narrowly beaten in PE2011?  Another issue: The damage that the whole shameful rigmarole has inflicted on the integrity of the PE.   

A small laundry list of potential candidates has been offered –  Khaw Boon Wan, George Yeo, Peter Seah, a current member of the Council of Presidential Advisers and chairman of Singapore Airlines and DBS Group Holdings, Tommy Koh, Lee Hsien Yang, George Goh, entrepreneur and non-resident ambassador to Morocco, and Ho Kwon Ping, founder and executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings. 

At this stage, of course, it is not clear until the race is on who would be the establishment’s flag-bearer. It may even be a matter of degree because none of the people on the list could be described as real outsiders.

But one thing is clear. PE2011 was a real eye-opener for the People’s Action Party. Anyone who had watched the live telecast of the results could feel the tension that night. At one stage, when Dr Tan Cheng Bock was shouted as the winner, you could see the downtrodden face of Dr Tony Tan who was the eventual winner.

The PAP has made the right decision for the long-term sake of Singapore – having a second key to the reserves. But, as the system evolves, the establishment always faces the risk of having a president who will now and then want to test it to see how far he can go as an executive head of state, given his limits.

And the greatest irony is that such action actually enhances the stature of the presidency.

If you ask voters to go through all the trouble of taking part in a presidential election, you should expect that the elected president will carry out his or her duties without fear or favour. 

The government created the elected presidency. Having it contested and involving all Singaporeans is better for the system than allowing a walkover.  It is also a good time to test the ground during this period of leadership transition.

This new president should be someone voters will respect.

I cannot see beyond Khaw Boon Wan or Tharman Shanmugaratnam if he is not going off to the IMF/World Bank – or someone just as solid outside the establishment. PE2023 is important. So many issues to air. We have already wasted six years. 

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company. 

Send in your scoops to news@theindependent.sg 

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