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Presidential Election: Tidak cucup Melayu (not Malay enough)?

Sense And Nonsense – by Tan Bah Bah

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Two parallel debates are going on over the Presidential Election in September. They will shape public perception of the next President of Singapore – not necessarily for the better.

The first debate is linked to Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s continuing challenge to the legal legitimacy of the election. He has filed an appeal against the High Court’s rejection of his earlier application.

In simple colloquial terms, Dr Tan feels he has been cruelly and unfairly hard done. He lost that last election in 2011 by a whisker to Dr Tony Tan and was looking forward to taking part again. He even declared his intention long before the latest constitutional changes which have resulted in a Malay candidates-only election for the next term of office. His pre-emptive move has itself been pre-empted by the changes, at least in the eyes of his supporters. Bear in mind that 738,311 Singaporeans voted for him in 2011.

So he has every right to be particularly peeved by Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair’s nasty remarks: “(Dr Tan) is advancing a strained interpretation of the Constitution so that he can apply to stand as a candidate in the coming (PE). His motives are purely selfish and he has shown no regard for the principle of multiracial representation which Parliament intended to safeguard.”

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This the-government-has-no-ulterior-motive-other-than-do-what’s-in-our-long-term-interest argument has been advocated ad infinitum.

Minister in the PMO Chan Chun Sing said during the Parliament debate on the changes: “If it were for short-term political advantage, let me ask the members of this House: If we were all politicians here calculating our short-term political advantages, would we expand political capital in doing this? Any sensible person would know that such amendments and moving of this Bill carries with it high political risk, if not political cost.” And so we have the GRC controversy all over again. And the PAP had the biggest shock when the Workers Party won Aljunied GRC.

Maybe the Minister was right – but not in the way he wanted us to believe, meaning that it showed a government ready to do what’s necessary for the greater good, never mind the fallout for them.  There is a potential separate backlash of cynicism which comes with pushing through the next Election as a reserved affair.  That political cost has nothing to do with multiracial representation.

The last two elections have shown that Singaporeans seemed to want a president – if they have to go through all the trouble of voting him or her in –  to act as a serious check on the government. However limited his or her powers.

Chua Kim Yeow caused quite a stir in 1993 when, without any form of campaigning, he received 41.3 per cent of the valid votes against Ong Teng Cheong. Then came the narrow escape for the establishment-endorsed candidate Dr Tony Tan in 2011.

I can’t do better than use the Hokien word: Kiasu.

The second debate that is going on in the lead up to September centres on the candidates for the Malay-only presidency.

Qualify or not?

Second Chance Properties CEO Mohamed Salleh Marican, who runs a company with shareholder equity of around $260 million (lower than the eligibility amount of $500 million), may not qualify. Farid Khan Kaim Khan, Bourbon Offshore Asia CEO, is not a Malay, Geylang Serai roots notwithstanding. He is of Pakistani descent. Halimah Yacob, the Speaker of Parliament and a touted front-runner for the post, is an Indian Muslim.

Perhaps, it is unfair to expect everyone to be 100 per cent this or that in any open society like Singapore. To stretch a point, the late Edward Barker, a founding first generation Law Minister, a Eurasian, had Indonesian/Malay blood. The Community Committee’s job to assess the racial group eligibility is perhaps the best way to minimise dispute. But there is a risk that its decision may not be accepted by segments of the Malay community.

We may end up with a situation where many insulted Malays may cast protest votes against a candidate they do not see as being Malay enough. In other words: Tidak cucup Melayu (not Malay enough).  And non-Malay voters may also skip the election or refuse to exercise their constitutional duty because they perceive the election as not really involving them.

The end result: The next President does not represent anyone except those who insist on having the election in September. Sangat susah (very troublesome).

RIP Liu Xiaobo

Goh Sui Noi wrote a beautiful piece on Liu Xiaobo, 61, who died of liver cancer on Thursday. The Straits Times China Bureau Chief gave a lot of play to Chinese netizens’ praise for the Chinese Nobel Peace laureate’s pro-democracy fight for freedom of expression and human rights.  Well done.

I was at ST Foreign Desk those historic nights in 1989 when the protesters, Liu included, occupied Tiananmen Square calling for democracy – before the tanks rolled in.  For a moment, a tantalising moment, we all thought it was going to be the Berlin Wall all over. We were following and carrying every development with great excitement. But the collapse of the communist regime never came.

May Liu rest in peace.

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.

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