Monday, August 8, 2011

Wanted: A President to Weather the Storm with Heart and Soul

Tomorrow Singapore celebrates 46 years of self-government.

But do Singaporeans have much to cheer about given that inflation has crept past 5%, the unemployment rate shot up from 1.9% to 2.3% (as at the end of the second quarter), public transport fares are set to be raised by 1% in October and the country's economic outlook is beginning to lose its shine - a downgrading of the growth forecast is expected to be announced soon.

To top it off, the recent loss of its triple-A credit rating by the US and the possibility of a further downgrade of its credit rating is sure to make the world markets nervous, a nervousness that will extend its reach to Singapore and make difficult times even more difficult.

If ever there was a time for Singapore and Singaporeans to find a rallying point from which to withstand the approaching storm, now would definitely be it. One possible rallying point around which Singaporeans might gather could be in the form of the next elected president, especially if he is a president who is well-liked and loved by the people.

But a lot depends on how the coming presidential election on 27 August turns out, and that, in turn, depends on how the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) decides on who they will allow to run the race for the highest office in the land.

As we move forward towards Nomination Day, which will fall on 17 August, we can expect the jockeying for position to intensify between the six aspirants who have thrown their names into the ring. Already, even before the presidential hopefuls can begin to officially campaign, the gloves are beginning to come off.

Sharp retorts were issued by all save for one potential candidate when it appeared as though Law Minister K Shanmugam was once again trying to muzzle them and in doing so, possibly dilute their passion and dissuade them from mounting a popular campaign.

Big mistake. Far from silencing and the cowing the aspirants for the august office, it has probably added fuel to the fire that has already been lit in their belly. The ensuing vitriol from Singaporean who were visibly upset by his remarks resulted in him having to do some backtracking and issuing a clarification - such is the power of a people mobilized and a much informed public.

As we ready ourselves to face the trying economic times ahead, I can only hope that we can find it within ourselves to vote wisely for a president who has more heartware than hardware. After all, wasn't it the government that kept stressing that the president is not a centre of power unto itself and that the powers of the president are prescribed by the Constitution?

If such were the case, would we really need to have as president, a man who, while well-equipped to advice on the perfect economic storm, may yet be lacking in the heart and emotional quotient department? Do we need a polished technocrat in the Istana if the day-to-day governing of the country is the purview of the prime minister and his cabinet of ministers?

What Singapore needs to weather the storm is a president who feels for and with the people, who speaks up for them when appropriate, through established protocols, and who will not shy from taking a contrarian path from the one plotted by the government, when needed.

Now more than ever, Singapore is going to have to look deep to find and reclaim its soul in order to survive the coming economic crisis, and what we need in the Istana is a man who will ensure that we make it through the storm with our heart and soul intact, that we progress, in better times, not based on a profit maximization ethic but with heart and soul.

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