Despite having ruled himself out the soon-to-be held presidential election, President S R Nathan appears to be playing an active part in the Elected President race.
What’s interesting is how President Nathan seems to be "campaigning" on behalf of the establishment for Dr Tony Tan's bid for the presidency. What more can Tony Tan ask for than having the incumbent campaigning for him as potential successor?
Interesting but not surprising since any overt campaigning by the PAP-led government or any of its associated party machinery could scupper Tony Tan's chances in the race to the Istana, as such a move would only confirm in the minds of voters that Tony Tan, despite his claims of being an independent candidate, is the government-endorsed (and by extension, the PAP-endorsed) presidential hopeful - not that voters don't already know this to be the case.
Following his ringing endorsement of Tony Tan's candidacy, President Nathan over the weekend 'warned' of the danger of having a leader who bows to populist pressure and once again reminded Singaporeans to look at the big picture in relation to government decisions that had proven to be for the good of the nation in the end.
No one is begrudging the government the good work it has done for Singapore but recent history has shown to Singaporeans that there is a need to ensure more checks-and-balances on the government to ensure that you and I can proudly continue to call this place ‘Home’ instead of feeling like strangers in our own homeland.
This dissatisfaction with the government and its unpopular policies had translated into a 6.5% vote swing in the May 2011 general election and six parliamentary seats going to the opposition.
But with still only a minority voice in the nation's law-making body, it comes as no surprise that there would be a ground swell for another channel to hold the government accountable for its actions. The elected presidency is quite obviously thought to be the most appropriate vehicle for achieving this goal.
As an apolitical office, it is able to look at issues beyond party lines and offer an objective assessment of the issues of the day. And, as an office that has the mandate of the people, one could argue that it is the one office of state that can be the most representative of the wishes of the people. These two factors offer a unique channel to check-and-balance the powers of the government without the presidency becoming a centre of power unto itself.
President Nathan's warning about the dangers of populist leaders follows up on his retirement statement where he had said that Singapore needed leaders of "strong character and vision who resist populist pressures and the temptation to sacrifice the long-term interests of the nation in response to those who merely snipe without having to take responsibility".
No matter how you dress it up, I feel that this was quite obviously a plug for Tony Tan in the run-up to the contest between the potential presidential candidates, namely Dr Tony Tan, Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian. President Nathan’s public endorsement of Tony Tan's candidacy only adds weight to where his allegiance lies.
The narrative used by President Nathan is all too familiar, couched in the all too familiar language of the PAP public relations machinery. And I am inclined to think that more opportunities will be created by the mainstream media in the closing days of President Nathan’s presidency to allow him to lend his weight to the promotion of one presidential candidate over the others, namely Tony Tan.
In arguing against a populist leader, President Nathan is essentially calling on Singaporeans to accept the status quo, to go for the familiar, to support the establishment. But is that what we, as citizens, want? Is that going to be good for our future and the future of this nation? The recent general election had offered Singaporeans a glimmer of hope that change for the better can be achieved by exercising our right of choice at the ballot box and I am optimistic that Singaporeans will continue to exercise this right with great consideration.
If, however, we accept President Nathan’s argument of not going for populist leaders, are we indirectly signaling that the so-called promised transformation of the PAP can remain as only that, a promise? This would be ironic because hasn’t the PAP had to adopt a more populist approach since the last general election to demonstrate that it is listening to and considering the views of the people? I can only hope that everyone continues to share my view that we cannot go back to ‘business as usual’ for the PAP-led government. Change is a must and change, they must.
After 12 years of a largely silent and compliant presidency, I believe that Singaporeans are looking forward to a change, to having a president who is not cut from the same cookie cutter as the government’s core leadership, to having a president who would take the time to listen to and consider the people’s views, and after having aggregated and assimilated those views, articulate them to the government within the larger context of the governance of Singapore and within the limits of his prescribed authority.