“Indeed, independence has become a prominent theme in the lead-up to the presidential election. All three hopefuls had a PAP background” (Is There A Truly Independent Candidate?, Mr. Eugene K.B. Tan).
In recent weeks, there has been a proliferation of commentaries published and opinions articulated by representatives of the government with regard to the roles and responsibilities of the Singapore President – including the article “Is There A Truly Independent Candidate?” (June 26, 2011) by Mr. Eugene K.B. Tan – as potential candidates begin to put themselves up for contention. Most poignantly, it was made clear by Law Minister K. Shanmugam that the President had custodial – not executive – powers, which left many Singaporeans wondering if that meant that the popularly-elected President would just be a mere “rubber stamp” for the incumbent administration.
Given the multitude of perspectives on the limits of the office-holder – as well as the corresponding awareness amongst the general populace – how will Singaporeans decide on the individual elected, in the event of a presidential contest during the respective campaigns? The decisions could be premised upon three considerations: the strength of the hopeful’s moral authority independent of political affiliations, the level of constant comprehension and engagement of on-the-ground sentiments, as well as the perception on whether he is honest, proficient-fluent and intellectual in his oratorical expressions.
Most importantly, the President of Singapore must have the moral tenacity – and thorough knowledge of policy developments – to withhold assent to bills or assorted socio-economic proposals based on personal discretion and consultation with the Council of Presidential Advisers. The electorate would definitely be more appreciative if the President and his advisers are not too closely associated with the ruling People’s Action Party; therefore, any form of endorsement – even through unofficial speeches or press interviews – might compromise the hopeful’s chances. Candidates can expect Singaporeans to be relentless in the search of their past speeches, actions and endeavours, so as to effectively determine the aforementioned.
Second, even though the President would not be directly involved in ground engagement with constituents – as such tasks are left to the Members of Parliament – he should remain constantly cognisant of community developments and concerns as well. Given that the President is widely-perceived as a unifying figure, he should have a constant ear at the grassroots level to remain aware of issues across different income groups and households. Only with this empowerment in terms of knowledge would it be possible for him to advance socially-constructive agendas for the benefit of all Singaporeans.
Finally, it is not sufficient to have a sharp and independent mind per se; given the plethora of ambassadorial duties and ceremonial events, it is imperative for the President to be effectually articulate in his expressions and interactions. After all, he is Singapore’s top diplomat. It is a matter of being aware of the different circumstances he is presented with, and adopting the right persona befitting the events and his status.