Latest Update: S R Nathan opts out of the race! And a third factor pointing to a July election.
I feel it in my bones that the Writ of Election for the upcoming presidential election will be issued soon by the Elections Department.
Thus far, feelings of anticipation have been fueled by the confirmation of three presidential hopefuls and the flurry of debate and opinion sharing among Singaporeans as to who would be the most appropriate person to be voted into the highest office of the land (albeit a principally ceremonial post with some custodial responsibilities thrown in, as so vigorously asserted by the current President, a former Senior Minister and a Cabinet Minister).
Of late, the pace of electioneering seems to have moved up a notch, especially after former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan announced his intention to enter the race. The flurry of endorsements for Dr Tony Tan from the establishment have been followed over the last couple of days by the mainstream media and a media pundit singing praises of Dr Tony Tan. Despite his claim to being an independent candidate, Dr Tony Tan is undoubtedly the establishment's choice for president.
Comparisons have been made to Singapore's first elected president (the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong) to sway voters that Dr Tony Tan will not simply be the PAP government's puppet. Glowing epithets such as "politically-astute", "politically-correct" have also been showered on Dr Tony Tan to make it appear that with him as president, the door to redefining the presidency will be opened.
It appears to me that the mainstream media has been called into play to become Dr Tony Tan's public relations vehicle to counter the simmering negative reactions of the public towards the overt support that the PAP has given to the former chairman of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), the parent organization for the mainstream print media.
I can only assume that the strategy is to infuse our collective memory with printed words and images that paint Dr Tony Tan is a positive light in the hopes of distracting us from remembering all the negativity surrounding his association to the PAP and the GIC. I am quite certain that in the days ahead, more of such supposedly objective essays on the man would appear in the many versions of the mainstream media.
Of course, in order to avoid being called partisan, the media would allow for space for the airing of news about the other two presidential aspirants, namely Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian. But my gut feel is that anything the media has to print/publish about them will be in the form of news (which can be both positive or negative) rather than editorials essays or features.
Coming back to my original intent for this post, the above development and well as a few other factors that are coming in the days and weeks ahead suggest to me that the Elections Department has probably been briefed to issue the Writ of Elections soon.
Besides the conscription of the mainstream media into becoming Dr Tony Tan's public relations vehicle, the month of July will also be a feel good month for civil servants as they will be receiving a bonus payment of half a month's salary plus a one-off payment of $300. This could very well translate into civil servants feeling a little more generous and giving their vote to the establishment endorsed presidential candidate.
Another factor which suggests to me a July presidential election, despite the 31 August deadline, is the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on 1 August, during which Muslims fast during the day from sunrise to sunset and perform the nightly congregrational prayers. Holding the election during this period may not sit well with the Muslim electorate.
A third factor which makes a July presidential election most likely is the coming arrival of the Ghost Month and the Ghost Festivcal, which marks the seventh month of the traditional Chinese calendar, on 31 July. Given the inauspicious associations linked to the Ghost Month, especially among the more traditional Chinese, it is unlikely that the election will be slated for an August date.
The presidential election is definitely just around the corner, and if you ask me the issuance of the Writ is probably just days away.
We have all been riding the euphoria of change following the May general election, and the quick follow-up of the notice of presidential election in early June has only further whetted our appetites for participating in the political process.
However, lest we are lulled into a sense of complacency with our vociferous engagement of the issues surrounding the elected president through the various discussion channels, let us also remember that the real battle for the hearts and minds of the voters is just about to begin. It is this battle, this final assault, that would have the most significant bearing on the outcome of the election.
The establishment is counting on the recency effect to bring voters into the Tony Tan camp. I would urge both Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian to put their own public relations vehicles into full gear, ready to be mobilised immediately upon the issuance of the Writ of Election.
Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian may have had the advantage of being the early birds in the presidential race but that is not going to guarantee that one of them will be the one catch the worm.
So, now more than ever, the aspirants will have to be on their toes and be ready with their plans to go full-swing into campaigning.
Afternote: As at 1 July, President S R Nathan has confirmed that he will not be contesting the upcoming presidential election thus capping his presidency at two terms and giving him the time and space to focus on the launch of his book on his tenure in the highest office of the land. All I have to say is thank you for your service and thank you for allowing this election to go forward.
With the unlikelihood of any other credible candidate coming forward, it certainly would make sense for the Elections Department to roll out the election machinery. After being subjected to a non-event for the last two presidential elections, Singaporeans are certainly game for a contest of the three Tans.