SINGAPORE: While some have welcomed presidential hopeful George Goh Ching Wah as a worthy alternative choice (if he is found eligible to contest in the looming presidential election), others have asked whether the entrepreneur really will be as independent as Singaporeans hope he might be, given some of his recent statements.
Although Mr Goh has publicly criticized veteran politician and fellow presidential hopeful Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s affiliation with the ruling party, he suggested earlier this week that checking on the government is unnecessary. On Tuesday (20 June), Mr Goh said that the President’s role is not to serve as a check on the Government as 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.
Asserting that his promise to be an independent candidate does not mean he will act as a check to the Government, he added: “So when I mean ‘independent’, I mean I’m a candidate (who is) independent, so don’t get it wrong.”
These remarks have failed to land with some, who have perceived it as a lack of courage to stand up against the ruling party.
Prominent socio-political commentator, Tan Tee Seng is among those who are disappointed by the entrepreneur’s rejection of the role of the President to act as a check to the Government. Asserting that it is regrettable to see Mr Goh miss the opportunity to build momentum for himself in the presidential race, Mr Tan asked him to step aside if he cannot keep the Government in check in a Facebook post published yesterday (22 June).
He also questioned how Mr Goh could compete with a candidate with extensive government experience spanning over 22 years, given that his pledge to be an independent candidate has now appeared to fall flat.
Mr Tan criticised Mr Goh’s assertion that citizens cannot check on the government and likened it to a controversial Facebook post by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching, calling it asinine. Interestingly, Mdm Ho’s Facebook post was published a day before Mr Goh made his comments.
Highlighting the constitutional requirements for the president, Mr Tan noted that the president must be non-partisan and elected through popular vote. He described this as a form of two-factor authentication essential for ensuring independence. He asserted that the president should be able to scrutinize the government of the day and have the moral authority to challenge elected representatives.
Finding the notion that the president should not be political or responsible for checking the government bewildering, Mr Tan argued that the elected president holding the second key to the reserve is intended to ensure government accountability to the people.
Mr Tan pointed out that due to the PAP’s unchallenged dominance and limited avenues for feedback, Singapore’s Presidential Election has become an eagerly anticipated referendum for citizens. He noted that the past ex-politician presidents, Ong Teng Cheong and Tony Tan, were elected with marginal victories, which he interpreted as a clear indication that voters expect the president to hold the government accountable.
Arguing that Mr Goh should step aside or seriously reconsider his campaign messaging if he is genuinely committed to the contest, Mr Tan said: “Ong Teng Cheong’s meagre winning percentage against a non-committed candidate who did not even campaign and Tony Tan’s minority win illustrated the expectation of the voters.
“Whoever wins needs to hold the government accountable. If George Goh is unable to meet this standard, he should just step aside. If he is serious about the contest, perhaps he should relook at his theme of his campaign.”
As Singapore’s Presidential Election approaches, the perspective of Singaporeans like Mr Tan sheds light on the growing demands for greater accountability, transparency, and democratic principles within the government. The election outcome will be closely watched as citizens continue to express their aspirations for a more inclusive and responsive governance structure.