Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nathan campaigns for pro-establishment president

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.


Trebuchet said...

Actually, one of the assumptions we're all making is that if you worked with the PAP in the past, you became one of them and lost all your independence. I don't think that's true, although it is a convenient measure to those of us who don't want to think further.

People like Lim Kim San, Goh Keng Swee, Eddie Barker from the Old Guard; and people like Ong Teng Cheong and S Dhanabalan and Tony Tan from the not-so-Old Guard — these people have independent minds. If they use those independent minds to join the PAP, are they any less independent? Are they any less competent?

The reason I am thinking this way is simple. The way the EP is set up, all candidates must be establishment candidates in one sense or another. Hence we must evaluate them carefully without thinking about how many years they were PAP members. Look at everything else. That would be wiser.

Anonymous said...

Meaning of independent -

"Not controlled or influenced by a party or interest group"

Will TT be really independent based on his wonderful track record of public service?

Isn't he an interested party and integral part of the current establishment and ruling elite?

Anonymous said...

It a real shame. Every time we mentioned the President, we will be asked whether he is Pro govt or independent. Why subject him to this kind of politic? How can he expect to be representing all Singaporean when he is being divided.

I hope someone will put forward for a referendum to revert back the Presidency to ceremonial duty as previously. If Singaporean really want check and balances, perhaps we should consider creating a Upper House of Representatives to replace the duty of President looking after the reserve. This will made a President truly neutral and accepted by all.

Anonymous said...

Why are we taking this blatant insistent that we vote in another PAP man as EP lying down.

Once and for all we should send the strongest signal that such behaviour will only reap the opposite effect.

It is blatant and a travesty to suggest that Tony Tan can be neutral where the GIC is concerned.

In the days before the big day, we should all pressurize him to state in no uncertain terms what he sees is wrong with the country and what are his specific ideas on remedies. We have reached that point where it is totally foolish to allow him to gloss over and for all we know make an about turn if he is elected. In fact, I am predicting that there wouldn't be much changes to the ministers million dollars salaries if TT is elected by default or otherwise. We should also pressurize the govt to ANNOUNCE THE RESULT OF THE GERARD EE STUDY BEFORE THE EP ELECTION DAY. This would ensure there is no about turn and treachery by the govt which we know is fully capable of such behaviour form its own past record. Notice how quiet and little has transpired since those big words by PM Lee and George Yeo. There is real reason to think that those were not sincere words made in a desperate attempt to swing votes in its own favour. Don't be fooled again!

Anonymous said...

SR Nathan's wouldn't even be President if he had been subjected to the popular vote.
The perception is he was given the post as he was most likely to toe the line after the experience of the OTC Presidency.
Not surprise he is campaigning for TT.
You have scratched my back, now I sratch yours.

Soojenn said...

"The reason I am thinking this way is simple. The way the EP is set up, all candidates must be establishment candidates in one sense or another. Hence we must evaluate them carefully without thinking about how many years they were PAP members. Look at everything else. That would be wiser."

Does not mean that the public have to accept the way the EP is set up - that is where the candidates are establishment candidates.

Most netizens have evaauted TT on his "record" which you can find in the various blogs of how "independant" he can be or what "good" he did?

"how many years they were PAP members" is just one of the criteria, and cannot understand why this has to be left out.

Most netizens want chang from the current political situation, not just blah blah, and since the EP has no direct powers, and who powers can be vetoed by the majority of the parliament, in this case the PAP, why do we need an EP to be another PAP long time ally, or in the famiLEE, who is now suddenly "independant"? TT is also by the way related to the LEE famiLEE, that is to LKY