Monday, August 22, 2011

Key considerations in final leg of PE race

With only four days to go to the end of campaigning for the presidential election, the four candidates have established four clearly distinctive platforms for voters to consider before they go to the polls on Saturday.

While they have generally remained consistent in their campaign positioning since announcing their candidacies, one thing that has emerged over the days following the confirmation of their candidacy on nomination day last week is the much greater degree of clarity on where they stand in relation to the role of the president.

And how voters take to the positions articulated by former Ayer Rajah member of parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock, former civil servant and opposition politician Tan Jee Say, former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan and former NTUC income chief Tan Kin Lian will be a key determinant in the outcome of the election.

In the case of Dr Tan Cheng Bock, the theme of unifying Singaporeans appears to be a continuing thread in his campaign. He has augmented it with a promise to champion multiracialism, a cause which may find currency with Singaporeans in the face of the growing negativism towards immigrants.

However, Dr Tan's latest stance of staying away from day-to-day politics and suggesting that the presidential candidates should not make promises they cannot deliver under the Constitution may cause him to lose some votes with voters who had earlier looked to him to provide a measured counter-balance to the government. His proposals to physically separate the offices of the elected president and prime minister and to merge all the community self-help groups, although having their merits, may not be enough to recoup those lost votes.

Next we have Mr Tan Jee Say, who has elaborated his position on the office of the president from just being a check on government to one where he sees the president as having the moral power to persuade people, even though he does not have executive power.

Mr Tan, who is popularly regarded as the real independent candidate (by virtue of his not having been a PAP member) has also tried to bank on his popularity by setting a benchmark of $500,000 as a reasonable salary for the president. Calling it a benchmark shows a measure of political astuteness on the part of Mr Tan, especially in light of cautionary remarks by Dr Tan, who said that candidates should not make promises they cannot deliver, and Dr Tony Tan, who said that candidates should not issue cheques they cannot cash-in.

In the meantime, Dr Tony Tan has tried to improve the appeal of his campaign positioning by indicating that he will make social harmony and community bonding one of his priorities. This is a significant shift away from his previously oft-repeated mantra of his economic credentials and experience, and that if elected president he would work with the government to get Singapore through the next economic crisis.

Why has there been a shift in his positioning? I can only guess that it was due to the realization that voters may have found it odd that given the Constitutionally delimited powers of the president, Dr Tony Tan appeared to be overly suggesting that he had a key role to play in managing the country's economy. And all this while establishment figures kept shooting down any suggestions by the other candidates that they would do more for the people over and above what was now provided in the Constitution.

Finally, there's Mr Tan Kin Lian, whose platform of being the voice of the people, is being fleshed out with populist proposals - the latest being his suggestion to introduce a pension for the elderly to complement their CPF savings. Mr Tan had also earlier proposed the establishment of a President's Personal Council to help him convey the people's concerns to the government.

And early in his campaign, Mr Tan had promised to donate half the president's salary to help the elderly and children from needy families if elected. While this had helped Mr Tan to gain some early advantage, that advantage seems to have withered over the course of the election campaign.

And so, as we embark on the final leg of the presidential campaign trail, which will feature outdoor rallies by the candidates, we would do well to bear in mind the key elements in the platforms of the candidates and seriously consider how those platforms gel with our own personal aspirations in relation to the presidency.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Candidates who are behaving like the Eunuchs of Ancient Chinese Imperial System treating the Constitution like Edict in Democratic Singapore do not deserve to be our president.