Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Race is on as two Tri-Tans apply for eligibility certificate

Amidst rumblings of possibly being ruled out of the presidential race on account of a technicality, former NTUC Income chief Tan Kin Lian tried to gain first mover advantage by being the first prospective presidential candidate to file his application for the certificate of eligibility (COE).

Confident that his application would be approved by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), Mr Tan’s motivation seemed to be driven by the need to demonstrate to Singaporeans his commitment to the race for the office of the Elected President.

Mr Tan’s trip to the Elections Department to submit his application was closely followed by that of former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan. Both presidential hopefuls were apparently unaware of each other’s intentions to fulfill a requirement for contesting the presidential election.

Interestingly, both of them had filed their applications even before the issuance of the Writ of Election by the Elections Department, whereupon prospective candidates have three days to submit their application for the COE.

Given this development, I would not be at all surprised if the presidential election is called this month as I had earlier suggested.

In the meantime, the third potential candidate, former PAP member of parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock, when contacted by the media, had said, “I work along a set programme and I am on course.” Whether this means that the doctor is waiting for the issuance of the Writ of Election or he will do so in the next few days remains to be seen. In any case, watch this space!

Discussion forums had been rife with speculation that Mr Tan may have to sit out the coming presidential election as the organization where he was the chief executive officer (CEO) was not in fact a company but instead a co-operative. Mr Tan has since sought legal advice and will be applying for the COE to contest the election under a special clause.

Under this clause, anyone who has served 'in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organization or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which, in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee, has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President' could be eligible to contest the election.

Over the past days, Mr Tan has also taken great efforts to distance himself from the PAP, a party where he was a cadre member until 2007 when he retired from his position at NTUC Income. Ironically, in an effort to shore up his chances as a credible contender, Mr Tan shared that he had been approached twice by the party to contest the 1979 and 1985 elections on a PAP ticket.

During a media briefing prior to submitting his application, Mr Tan had been quick to underscore his independence on the basis that he had never been a minister or a member of parliament and was therefore free of any association with the PAP-led government’s policies. In keeping with the platform of being the voice of the people, he hoped to present views that are alternative and different from those of the government, while still working with the government.

Mr Tan’s positioning is reasonable as he is staying the course in terms of giving a voice to the aspirations of the people and the difficulties they face, and yet at the same time he is also indicating that such a stance need not mean an adversarial relationship between the elected president and the government. It does however mean that as president, Mr Tan would not remain largely silent or compliant if he saw fit to speak his mind.

The race to the Istana is certainly heating up as the contestants approach the starting line and wait in anticipation for the starter’s gun to go off. And as we wait for that moment, I am sure that what each of the candidates have to say to us will begin to sound similar – what else can we expect them to say – and possibly make it a little harder for us to choose one over the other. But I guess at the end of the day, who we finally choose to give our vote to will the person who we honestly think will be the one to truly have our interest in his heart.

Well, for me, one good thing that has emerged in the run-up to the presidential election is the expectation that the next presidency is definitely going to be different from what we had seen over the past 12 years. The bar has been set and whoever gets elected president will have to bear in mind the much higher expectations Singaporeans have of the president.

And despite all that has been said with regard to the limits of the power of the president, a Pandora’s box of sorts has been opened based on the various narratives and discourse that have emerged in the run-up to the coming presidential election, especially in light of comments made by Dr Tony Tan as well as President S R Nathan on the possibility of broadening the scope of the president’s powers.

And if that does happen, it may truly be a victory for the people.

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