Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Candidates' Strength of Character May Well Decide PE Results

The fortunes of the prospective candidates in the coming presidential elections seem to flow like the tide, ebbing at times and surging to a high at other times. And the official campaigning period has not even started yet!

Where once former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan seemed like a shoo-in as Singapore's seventh Head of State, clouds of doubt now seem to be hanging over him as a consequence of the controversy surrounding the revelations over the past week.

What started out as a ripple in a pond has grown to almost tsunami-like proportions and even threatens to swamp his campaign before it officially begins. At the heart of the controversy is the apparent abuse of privilege granted to his son in relation to the fulfilment of his national service duties, which coincidentally occurred during Dr Tony Tan's tenure as defence minister.

There have even been suggestions for Dr Tony Tan to withdraw entirely from the race to the Istana and public disavowal of support, well, at least in cyberspehere, from individuals who were purportedly loyal supporters of the former PAP stalwart.

And one word that was fast growing out of fashion in the heat of this "scandal" was the word "disappointed". Dr Tony Tan had tried to squash the controversy by labelling the allegations as false rumours and expressing that he was 'deeply disappointed' by what was being alleged online.

However, against the mounting evidence that lifted the veil of secrecy and gave rise to transparency, the tables began to turn and it was the public's turn to feel disappointed at what was perceived as a betrayal of every Singaporean son's obligation to the nation. To top it off, Singaporeans have begun to wonder aloud if there had been an abuse of position and privilege.

If there was ever a low point in Dr Tony Tan's presidential ambitions, this could probably be it as the scandal will surely further colour the perceptions of voters towards the former deputy chairman of the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore (GIC), which has also been the subject of the public's ire for its apparent lack of transparency.

How this would affect the psyche of the former Singapore Press Holding's chairman is anyone's guess, but I do not see him easily quitting the race on account of this. As a political veteran, Dr Tony Tan would probably choose to face the possibility of defeat in the elections rather than be forced to bow out.

But at the end of the day, whether in victory or defeat, Dr Tony Tan would have to be able to honestly ask himself: Has it all been worth it? Has it been worth the price he has had to pay to get elected as the President of Singapore?

In truth, these questions too need to be addressed by the other presidential hopefuls. For in choosing to run the race, they must surely know that they would have to lay themselves bare for all Singaporeans to see, to be judged not only on the strength of their experience but also the strength of their character.

And beyond all the posturing and promises, it may well be that the character of the prospective candidates - which include the qualities of honesty, integrity, compassion, among others - will play a key role in helping voters decides how they are going to vote come polling day.

In less than a week, we celebrate our nation's birthday, marking 46 years of independence and probably the last official event for incumbent President S R Nathan. And if things proceed as planned, we can probably expect the issuance of the Writ of Election for the presidential election shortly after that, clearing the path for the real hustings to begin.

Singaporeans may then get to see a veritable battle royale that will be played out between Dr Tony Tan, former member of parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock, former NTUC Income chief Mr Tan Kin Lian, former opposition party member Mr Tan Jee Say and former JTC Corporation group chief financial officer Mr Andew Kuan, assuming of course that the Presidential Election Committee (PEC) approves all five candidates.

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