Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And so, the race to the Istana begins

With their nomination papers filed and accepted, the real work for the presidential candidates to secure the votes of Singaporeans has begun.

Over the next nine days of campaigning, everything the candidates say and do will matter, and it will matter most at the polling booth when it comes to who 2.27 million Singaporeans, who are eligible to vote, decide to give their trust to be Singapore's 7th President.

Braving first, the heat and then a quick shower, supporters and a myriad of interested Singaporeans had made their way to the nomination centre at the People's Association's headquarters in Jalan Besar - an appropriate venue (if only in name) for the candidates to officially begin their journey to be the people's president - to witness the confirmation of the candidates for the office of the Elected President.

And for those who had come as early as 10 am, their more than two-and-a-half hours wait was finally rewarded when Returning Officer Yam Ah Mee declared that all four candidates had been accepted to contest the election which will be held on 27 August.

So, there we have it.

After almost two months of announcing their intent, building up their core base of support and making themselves known to the public, former member of parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock, former senior civil servant and investment adviser Mr Tan Jee Say, former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan and former NTUC Income chief Mr Tan Kin Lian are set to run the most important race in their lives. (Based on the order they were announced by the Returning Officer).

For despite all the clarifications and explanations about the 'real' roles and powers of the president, the people are eager to collectively play the hand of destiny (through their votes) and help shape the future politics of Singapore after having been denied the opportunity to do so for the last 18 years.

Given what I perceive as the higher ideals that Singaporeans have about the presidency, the burden of responsibility on the candidates is even all the more heavier to argue a compelling case in order to secure our votes and the right to be in the Istana for the next six years.

And even though it has been said tht the president is expected to be above partisan politics, there is really no running away from the fact of the ever-growing ground swell for the president to have some sway and influence over the policies and politics that affect our lives.

To borrow from what the prime minister said at the National Day Rally, Singaporeans want the president to be their voice at the highest level of government to address the stresses and strains that the people feel and to ensure that the government gets the politics and policies right.

Now, it does not mean that the president needs to be politically active or a strident activist to achieve these goals. The people are also not expecting the presidency to become a separate centre of power in itself. Far from it, what the people want is a president who will give a listening ear and have the listening ear of the government, principally the prime minister.

In keeping with the dignity and standing of the president's office, I am sure that there are appropriate channels through which the president can do this, that is, gather and collate feedback from the people and then relay them on to the government. I will elaborate my thoughts in a separate posting.

For now, let's stay focused on what's next for the candidates.

With each candidate having only one opportunity to speak to the masses (via an outdoor election rally), there will definitely be a high premium on the choice of venue and time for such a rally. The candidates will probably also be asking themselves whether it would be better to speak first or last - there is after all nine days for campaigning and the candidates would probably prefer not to have their rallies on the same day.

In my assessment, the candidates would probably opt for a night rally in order to make it possible for as many people as possible to attend and listen to what they have to say. And it's a lot cooler too at night and I wouldn't have to worry about having to forgo my one-hour lunch break to listen to only part of a rally.

Venue-wise, it would make sense for the candidates to choose a centrally-located venue so as to be as accessible as possible to Singaporeans who want to hear what the candidates have to say, and based on the nine rally sites approved by the police, I would have to say that Toa Payoh Stadium appears to be the most ideal.

Each candidate will also probably use their one and only rally to elaborate on their election platforms, which we were all given a glimpse of through their short speeches after being confirmed as a candidate for the presidential election. On a side note, I couldn't help but feel sorry for Dr Tony Tan when he was almost literally shouted down by Mr Tan Jee Say's supporters - he was the only candidate to have received such attention, probably by virtue of being seen as the establishment candidate.

But beyond that, at least all the candidates were consistent with their messaging, and my hope is that they will give us more food for thought when they hold their election rally. Hopefully it would help those among us who are still not quite sure who we want to vote for to come to a decision.

How this election is going to play out is still anybody's guess (no, it's not in the bag for Dr Tony Tan), and at its zenith, would probably be a choice between pragmatism and populism. It will have to be a choice between whether we want a president who has a fairly good chance of achieving the people's agenda (the PAP is, after all, not the easiest of governments to deal with) and a president who is constantly at odds with the government just on principle.

I am not going to tell anyone how to vote because it is ultimately your choice, and hopefully, it is an informed choice and a choice that will bear the fruits of our labour over the next six years.

What I am going to say though is this: Don't just follow the crowd, don't be cowed by the apparent show of support for a particular candidate. Instead, listen to what each candidate has to say, and I mean really listen, read about them as much as you can, get to know them (if you don't already) and follow your heart (and informed mind) when it comes to casting your vote.

Oh, and another thing I can tell you is that my vote is going to one of the candidates that has not been approved by the establishment and has not been described by the establishment as being eminently qualified and a very good candidate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vote 4 any Tan except Tony.