Tuesday, July 12, 2011

And then there were four . . .

Just when you thought the slate of potential candidates for the upcoming Presidential Elections had been settled, along comes another hopeful for the highest office, albeit a titular one, in the country.

The announcement by former JTC Corporation group chief financial officer Andrew Kuan that he is looking at making another bid for the presidency is set to turn the clash of the Tri-Tans into a four-cornered showdown.

Despite having failed to get a certificate of eligibility (COE) from the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) in 2005, Mr Kuan gets an ‘A’ for optimism and his belief that the Constitution, the JTC Act and his final year appraisal at JTC would provide ample evidence in support of his eligibility to be a presidential candidate this time round.

However, questions have to be asked as to why the 57-year-old Mr Kuan is stepping into the fray this late in the game and adding a fourth dimension to the choice that voters have to make on polling day.

Technically, there is still about seven weeks to go before the 31 August deadline for the presidential elections, so it is well-within Mr Kuan’s rights to decide to step forward to offer his service to the nation “to do something worthy and dignified for a better and more inclusive Singapore through transformation and healing”.

For all we know, even more candidates may come up to the plate when the Writ of Election is finally issued by the Elections Department, thereby giving voters a plurality of choices. It will then be up to the PEC to whittle down the field, leaving only candidates who actually qualify to stand for the presidential election.

But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding and the seriousness of Mr Kuan’s possible candidacy depends on whether he actually collects the application forms for the COE and submits them to the PEC.

So, what do we know of Mr Andrew Kuan, besides his stint as group chief financial officer at JTC Corporation?

Mr Kuan is best remembered for his unsuccessful attempt to contest the office of the elected president in 2005 and his withdrawal from contesting the Joo Chiat seat during the recent May general elections (GE2011) so as to avoid a three-cornered fight.

To be honest, Mr Kuan’s decision to run the presidential race is not totally unexpected and some political watchers had actually wondered not if but when he would come forward to make another bid for the presidency since he had graciously stepped aside to allow a straight fight between the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Workers’ Party (WP) in Joo Chiat during GE2011.

Cynics, however, have a more conspiratorial take on the matter and suggest that Mr Kuan’s possible candidacy is being orchestrated by the establishment to further split the votes and secure a victory for former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan, thereby ensuring a pro-establishment president in the Istana.

After all, didn’t Mr Kuan himself acknowledge, by his withdrawal from the Joo Chiat contest, that a multi-cornered electoral battle would ultimately favor the establishment by virtue of presenting the non-establishment voters with a plurality of choices? So, the obvious question that Mr Kuan needs to answer is why is he now seemingly contradicting himself? What are the key driving forces that have motivated him to run for president?

If his goal is to again seek “closure in a dignified manner” on the assumption that he does not win the presidential election, it could very well be a costly closure for Singaporeans, especially those who wish for a president who would truly champion the cause of the people, as it would almost certainly hand the presidency to Dr Tony Tan at the expense of former PAP member of parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock and former NTUC chief Mr Tan Kin Lian.

The breadth of interest in becoming a presidential candidate hopeful is surprising given the many clarifications from the government on the limitations of the role and powers of the president. Notwithstanding this fact, there has been a sliver of hope of late, with the possibility of a constitutional review that may see an evolution of the president’s role and powers. But that bridge has yet to be crossed, so let’s not count our chickens yet.

For now, our immediate concern, assuming all four hopefuls get their COEs from the PEC, is to think about whom among the four deserves our vote of confidence to be the nation’s unifying figure, to be the nation’s conscience, to be the nation’s protector of the reserves, and to be the president that we can take pride in.

This presidential election is not just about voting the best qualified candidate for the job; it is about putting our confidence in the person who we feel will best represent the interest of Singaporeans and Singapore.

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