The recent endorsement of former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan's bid for the presidency by the leaders of two organizations raises a few fundamental questions.
Top on my list is the question of the sanctity of one's personal choice and secrecy of one's vote - although of late, many Singaporeans have been wearing their preference on their sleeves and even loudly proclaiming how they would vote (in many cases, such individuals tend to prefer the non-establishment candidate). But it is still ultimately a personal choice.
In publicly endorsing Dr Tony Tan, it would appear that both Mr Tan Lian Ker, who is secretary-general of the 10,000-member Federation of Tan Clan Associations, and Mr John De Payva, who is president of the more than 500,000-member NTUC, may have inadvertently been guilty of imposing 'group think' on their members.
Although I should add here that while Mr Tan had outrightly endorsed Dr Tony Tan, Mr De Payva had come just as close by saying that Dr Tan "fits the bill" in terms of the qualities that the labour movement was looking for in the next president.
It is worth noting that the NTUC had not yet decided whether to endorse any presidential candidate but in stating that Dr Tan "fits the bill", Mr De Payva might as well have been telling his unionists how they should vote. And this could figure significantly and unfairly in the deliberations of the labour movement on whether to support a presidential candidate.
My question to NTUC: Is there a need to even deliberate the matter since the president is after all supposed to be above politics? Given that the labour movement in Singapore is so closely inter-twined fortunes of with the ruling party, an institutional endorsement by the NTUC would only serve to politicise the race to the Istana.
It might be wiser for the NTUC to allow its members to make up their own minds, as individual Singaporeans, instead of being made to vote according to the union's preference.
Similarly, I can only hope that the Federation of Tan Clan Associations had secured a consensus of opinion amongst its members prior to Mr Tan's public endorsement. And more importantly, was this a consensus comprising its 10,000 members or only a consensus amongst leaders of its clan associations?
I can only imagine the disquiet it would create if the endorsement did not have the full support of the Federation’s members or if the endorsement had been made even before the members had been consulted.
It troubles me that for an election that has been repeatedly droned to us by the establishment as being non-political and non-partisan, we are seeing lines of affiliation and possibly (enforced) loyalty being drawn and requiring people to vote with the group.
'Group think', if we recall, had been a charge that the PAP had been accused of during the recent May general elections. It was a charge the PAP was quick to deny and debunk, although not convincingly enough if you ask me.
And now, surprise, surprise, we find ourselves possibly facing the spectre of more than half a million Singaporeans being told who to vote for. Would it be fair to all those people if we rob them of their right to make an independent and informed choice, and force them instead to abide by a group decision that they may not have agreed with?
And since the NTUC is about to involve its members in deciding whether to endorse a presidential candidate, I can only hope that wisdom will prevail and that the unionists will choose not to endorse anyone as a labour movement and choose instead to decide as individuals who they want to support, be it Dr Tony Tan, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Mr Tan Kin Lian, Mr Tan Jee Say, Mr Andrew Kuan or Mr Ooi Ewe Boon.
All six men deserve our consideration, well, at least until the Presidential Elections Committee decides on who they will award the certificate of eligibility to, thereby allowing them to further their quest to be the next President of Singapore.