Monday, June 6, 2011

Elected President Race Gets Interesting

It’s barely a month since he lost his seat as an elected Member of Parliament and his position as a Minister in Singapore’s government, but George Yeo still seems to have an appetite for electoral battle.
He has emerged as a potential candidate for the upcoming Elected President election, going by a posting in his Facebook page and the appearance of a delegation at the Elections Department to collect a certificate of eligibility form for Mr Yeo.
The presidential race may not be as heated as the recent general election, given that candidates do not contest on a party platform, but voters will still be judging each candidate on their merit, character, credibility, and ability before casting their vote for the person whom they truly believe can be the people’s guardian.
To date, four names have been thrown into the fray, with former MP Dr Tan Cheng Bock and businessman Mr Ooi Boon Ewe having declared their intention to contest the election and former NTUC Income chief Mr Tan Kin Lian and Mr George Yeo indicating their interest (by way of the collection of the certificate of eligibility form via proxies).
As contenders for the presidential office have until three days after the issuance of the writ of election to submit their forms, we will probably have to wait with bated breath to find out if this will be a two-horse race or more. Unless anyone else steps forward, I see this as a possible three-horse race comprising Dr Tan, Mr Tan and Mr Yeo as Mr Ooi would probably not meet the eligibility requirements.
George Yeo for President?
Mr Yeo’s possible participation in the elections (he has given himself two weeks to come to a final decision) comes as a surprise because he had all but ruled himself out when he announced his retirement from politics following his defeat in the 2011 general election. Apparently driven by pleas from his fans to run for president, Mr Yeo is now “thinking hard about and praying for wisdom”.
If I were him, I would, with the utmost humility and respect to his supporters, not take part in the presidential election for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, the May 2011 general election had seen a sea change in the voter behavior against the People’s Action Party (PAP), giving it the lowest margin of victory since it came to power. Anti-PAP sentiment is still running high. There are still many unresolved issues and the recent floods have only served to further sour the already tenuous relationship between the PAP-led government and the polity.
Given the continuity of such sentiments and also the assessment of a standing PAP MP and a former PAP minister that candidates who are closely linked to the party will not be preferred by voters, the most logical decision for Mr Yeo is to not contest the highest office in the land.
It would also be two-faced and absolutely insincere of the PAP to suddenly change the stance it took in response to Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s declared candidacy, should George Yeo decide to run the race. It would also suggest that the PAP believe that they would have a more PAP-friendly president in Mr Yeo as compared to Dr Tan.
Mr Yeo also has the burden of having been part of the inner circle of power in PAP, while Dr Tan was clearly a maverick backbencher within the party even though he had been part of the Central Executive Committee. While Mr Yeo had toed the party line and espoused the mantra of the government, Dr Tan had often-times stood by his principles and spoken up against the party and government.
Secondly, it would be naïve of Mr Yeo’s supporters to believe that if elected as President, Mr Yeo could be the type of leader the younger generation could rally around. The promise of engaging the younger generation was made in the context of Mr Yeo being returned to Parliament by way of the general election. Had he been returned to office, Mr Yeo would probably have introduced initiatives that would have enabled the government to tap into and understand the younger polity as part of a bigger effort to “re-invent” and reform the party to make it relevant to the post-65 generation so as to secure their votes.
On the other hand, as an elected president, Mr Yeo would not have any form to executive powers to effect change. As President, he would only have custodial powers over the reserves and appointment to key public offices. While he would be able to engage the younger generation and be close to the people on the ground, his role would be more of a kind, fatherly figure who lends a listening ear. In the best case scenario, he may be able to convey the feelings and desires of the people to the government but that would be the limit of his impact on policy-making, and I do not see this changing unless the government decides to broaden the scope of powers accorded to the President.
Thirdly, Mr Yeo himself had stated that his temperament was not suited for the job. As President, Mr Yeo’s free-spiritedness would be all but curtailed and if we truly value the deep thinker that he is, we should not wish upon him this august office. This office would relegate Mr Yeo to, at most, social roles and ceremonial duties. Given his standing both regionally and in the international arena, Mr Yeo would serve the nation and the polity better in a role that transcends national boundaries or as the head of a supra-national think tank.
Also, if Singaporeans truly hope to see the PAP make real steps in re-inventing, reforming and transforming itself and believe that George Yeo has a part to play in that, then his being outside of the circle of governance, as an outsider looking in after having been inside, will require that he continue to be part of the PAP and not be distanced from the party as an elected president (as he would have to resign from the PAP).
Time for candidates to start engaging voters
No one knows for sure when the writ of election will be issued by the Elections Department, all we know is that the election must be held by 31 August. It could be as soon as two weeks from now, going by Mr Yeo’s comment that he will make a decision within two weeks (and given his past ties to the establishment, he may be privy to when the election has been planned for).
As the weeks ahead play out, Singaporeans will have a growing desire to have a greater understanding of the potential contenders. They will want to know more about each candidate, what they stand for, what they hope to achieve and how they will make a difference (within the boundaries of the office they are contesting).
We already have a feel of Dr Tan’s agenda and his possible platform based on what he has shared in his webpage, while Mr Yeo’s possible candidacy seems to be a “rebound” effect arising from his election defeat. Both appear to be populist candidates and each has their fair share of followers. The other two candidates have thus far not shared much, save for a declaration of intent by one (Mr Ooi) and an indication of intent by the other (Mr Tan).
So, my call to all the potential candidates is to not spare any effort to reach out to Singaporeans. Make use of all available channels to touch Singaporeans so that as voters we know who you are and what you stand for. Engage us so that we know that you are keeping your ear to the ground and actually listen to our concerns. Ultimately, when we go to the ballot box, we want to be able to make an informed choice when choose our next president.
At the end of the day, we want a people’s president.
A president we can be proud of.

Addendum 1 (7 June 2011): Following the publication of this posting, Mr Tan Kin Lian has indicated in his blog on 7 June that he will be contesting the presidential election. The race is really heating up; and in both Dr Tan and Mr Tan, Singaporeans can be sure of having a president who will have the interest of the people at heart.

Addendum 2 (15 June 2011): Mr George Yeo has decided not to contest the office of the Elected President after having taken about two weeks to think about it and consider the views of family, friends and Singaporeans.


Sam said...

I believe Tan Kin Lian has decided to run for president, here's the link:

Hope this post and other posts on his blog gives everyone a clearer view on what he's like. Btw, I'm not a TKL supporter, just a very undecided voter.

justice said...

Well said. I vote for Mr Tan Kin Lian.

justice said...

We need someone not related to the PAP. From the Accounting Point of rules, it is not prudent to have same group of ppl to hold the keys.

Maverick said...

Thank you for the comments. I'm not partial to either TCB or TKL either but I hope by studying and writing about each of them, as well as other possible candidates, I can come to a decision as to who deserves my vote by election day.

Anonymous said...

I will find it hard to accept someone who has been rejected by his electorate to run for presidency. A rejected MP as President? No thanks.

Anonymous said...

I do not like any of the potential candidates thus far. Hope more qualified people will step forward.

o.k.w said...

I do agree and feel that GY will have bigger and better impact on Singapore and perhaps the World by doing something else.

Maverick said...

Well, George Yeo has come back from his break and having had time to seriously think about the presidential race and consider the views of Singaporeans online and offline, he has decided not to contest the office of the Elected President. Wise move, George.