Monday, July 25, 2011

Beyond Independence, Trust and Accessibility Key to Winning PE

Even though the Writ of Election has yet to be issued by the Elections Department (ELD), the key presidential hopefuls have definitely been stepping up their efforts to make an impression on the voting public.

Attendances at the Singapore-Malaysia World Cup qualifier, walkabouts and a visit to a new town park marked some of the weekend efforts of three of the potential candidates in the coming presidential elections to make themselves more accessible and endear themselves to Singaporeans.

These activities suggest that the front runners in the coming race to the Istana have moved beyond trying to convince the voters of their independence from the ruling party to one of fostering a sense of trust and making themselves accessible to the people.

Most of these efforts to build rapport with the electorate have, however, been communicated through various social media channels - namely Facebook pages - employed by the aspirants and their supporters.

The mainstream media has largely refrained from reporting on their weekend activities save for a photo story of Dr Tony Tan coming to the aid of a boy who apparently fell and injured himself while playing in the playground in Woodlands Waterfront Park.

That the mainstream media happened to be there during a private visit - Dr Tony Tan is after all a private citizen now except for the fact that he is running for president - and that a photographer was conveniently present to capture him and his wife attending to the injured boy has raised the hackles of netizens and many informed Singaporeans about the partisanship of the mainstream media, particularly the one where he had served as chairman.

Some cynics would say that the visual imagery of the report had been designed to manipulate voters by gaining their sympathy and empathy for Dr Tony Tan's actions, and the more hardened ones would even go so far as to say that the whole incident had been staged to create the perfect opportunity to cast him in a softer light.

While the former deputy prime minister may seriously want to be more accessible to the people, the mainstream media and his minders are not going to be doing him any favors if they continue to stage manage his public appearances. This will only create a trust perception gap between the people and the former PAP stalwart.

The issue of accessibility and trust had also been a key point raised by former member of parliament (MP) Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who is also in the running for the presidency, during an interview after submitting his application for his certificate of eligibility (COE).

Dr Tan Cheng Bock, a medical doctor-turned-politician, had said the president must not be a distant person if he is to succeed in unifying Singaporeans. The president must be "somenbody the people can look to for support for some of the issues, national problems and so on", and underpinning all this is trust.

The six term MP had also stressed that without the trust of the people, he would not want to be president, adding that if the people trust him, they will know that when he makes a decision it will be in the interest of the country.

Trust will defnitely be a huge factor in our decision of who we want as our next president, especially if as defined by the Constitution, the president has only limited powers and may only be able to make an impact on policies by means of 'quiet diplomacy' instead of confronting the government with guns a-blazing, which seems to be the preferred approach of at least two other persons who have indicated an interest in the country's highest office.

Also out to garner more support is former NTUC Income chief Mr Tan Kin Lian, who, over the weekend, sought to get closer to a younger demography with his presence at the Miss Earth Finals and spend time with his supporters answering questions on issues close to hearts of Singaporeans.

Mr Tan Kin Lian, whose potential candidacy depends on the approval of the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), had also turned up at Jalan Besar Stadium to support the Singapore team in the World Cup qualifier against Malaysia, as did Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who was heartened to witness the return of the Kallang Roar with Singapore 5-3 win in the first leg of the qualifier.

The fourth Tan in the presidential race, Mr Tan Jee Say, was also out and about on the weekend, making his presence at Tampines Mall known through his Facebook page and inviting Singaporeans to engage him. He has been seen as a potential wild card candidate because of his non-affiliation to the PAP as compared to the other three candidates.

Despite having announced his intention to contest the election, Mr Tan Jee Say has yet to file his papers for the COE, but in truth, he has until no later than three days after the issuance of the Writ of Election to do so - and that's plenty of time on the election timeline.

And so, as the days begin winding down and the election draws near, who among these players in the unfolding race to the Istana will we find faith in; who will we throw our trust behind; who will we want as president to be our voice, our conscience, in our forever changed political landscape?

Who will give us the best hope of having a president of the people? One thing's for sure, it will be a Tan!

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