PE2023 is heating up with Tan Kin Lian among the candidates. Subject to none of them messing up his nomination papers on Aug 22, we will have a contested presidential election. Singapore would be better for it, coming after the disgrace of the last uncontested minorities-only PE (which could have been easily pushed down the road to allow Dr. Tan Cheng Bock his attempt to get into the Istana).
This time, there ought to be no pretender in the Istana. This coming contest will give voters what should be real choices in terms of the characters and backgrounds of the aspirants. The non-eligibility of George Goh is a shame because he does represent a certain segment of the population loosely recognized as the private sector. He should seriously consider entering politics. He is a good communicator. Progress Party Singapore? Maybe he can be a Nominated MP representing the self-made senior citizen.
So would PE2023 be what PE2011 could have developed into before the latter was rudely interrupted by the PE2017 sham?
In a fairly robust contest in September 2011, these were the results of PE2011: Dr. Tony Tan became president with only 745,693 votes (35.2 percent), making him, numerically speaking, a minority president. A very close second was ex-PAP stalwart turned critic, Dr. Tan Cheng Bock, with 738,311 votes (34.85 percent). The Anything But PAP bloc of voters went for Tan Jee Say – 530,441 votes (25.04 percent). Tan Kin Lian got 104,095 votes (4.91 percent).
PE2011 was considered a spillover of the discontent over the influx of foreign workers and other issues which saw the dominant People’s Action Party losing Aljunied GRC to the Workers’ Party in the General Elections in May the same year. It saw widespread dissatisfaction expressed through the huge chunks of dissenting votes which went to Dr. Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Jee Say, who now backs Tan Kin Lian in the current election.
PE2023 has a good slate of candidates. A number of the past presidents, if I may so, might not have been as adequately equipped as the current three contenders – Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Ng Kok Song, and Tan Kin Lian – to deal with the complexities of managing sovereign funds. Hard to doubt the financial IQ of Tharman, Ng, or Tan. I may be totally wrong but I doubt Wee Kim Wee and Benjamin Sheares could seriously handle questions relating to sovereign funds.
The Presidential Elections Committee has rightly assessed the three candidates in PE2023 to be capable. Their experience would see them asking all the right questions in dealing with any government request to use Singapore’s “rainy day” money. No reason why any of them cannot also spot a dud or questionable key public service appointment.
For PE2023, “Goliath” (Tharman Shanmugaratnam) is the one to beat. But it is, by no means, No Horse Run (bo beh chau). Ng and Tan should do well. Why?
It is obvious, going by PE2011, that Singaporeans want something more from their head of state beyond their ceremonial role and custodial duties. Never mind the finer print, the constitutional complexity (or is it clarity?) of what the elected president can and cannot do. All the clever analyses and opinion pieces will water down the duck’s back. What many people really want is a president who can make some difference in their lives, to be that extra channel at the top of the pyramid who can convey their angst and frustrations if and when everything else fails.
It’s been three long decades since we had a contested PE. Three decades is a long time in politics. But even with just the experience of the two – 1993 and 2011 – we can see that clearly the elected president is becoming a political rather than an apolitical appointment, at least for some Singaporeans. This coming PE will show how far the APB – Anything But PAP – sentiment has influenced the electorate.
PE2023 will be a curtain-raiser for the next General Elections in two years’ time.
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.