“Mr. Tan also reiterated that people ‘should not be afraid of speaking up’. ‘Disagreeing doesn’t mean that one is confrontational’, he said” (Disagreeing Does Not Mean That One Is Confrontational: Tan Jee Say, Miss Esther Ng).
It comes as no coincidence that Presidential candidate Mr. Tan Jee Say has publicly defended his “combative stances” – in the news report “Disagreeing Does Not Mean That One Is Confrontational: Tan Jee Say” (August 20, 2011) by Miss Esther Ng – following a rhetorical head-to-head clash with Dr. Tony Tan over the Internal Security Act (ISA) in a forum organised by The Online Citizen. While some opponents might dismiss his style of disagreement as being a tad confrontational, it would be hard to overlook his positive enthusiasm over important political and socio-economic issues, or to identify with his tenacity to highlight inconvenient subjects which have to be adequately addressed.
A On-The-Ground President
Even though the Elected President has no real manoeuvring space to advance his own policy agenda – since his roles and responsibilities have been clearly defined in Singapore’s Constitution – good comprehension of on-the-ground considerations would empower the individual to exercise his custodial powers more convincingly.
Furthermore with the moral authority vested following the mandate achieved, the President can act as an additional check and balance upon the incumbent government within the confines of the position. Even though some voters might contend that public expressions of divergences from the status quo might be counter-productive, I disagree; as evidenced in the recent weeks leading up to Polling Day, the heightened levels of debate and discourse in the public sphere has made Singaporeans more cognisant of concerns and worries.
And that is why Mr. Tan’s comments on having people “speak up” resonated with many. People have begun to recognise their positions as stakeholders in the communities, and have been relentless in their pursuits – through grassroots involvement and online commentaries – to have their voices heard. All these can be properly harnessed with increased sensitivities and sincere engagement on a long-term, sustainable basis.
Promoting Active Citizenry In Singapore
The Elected President should be accessible to all; a unifying figure in the country. In previous instances, Presidents have used this ease of access to advance meaningful social movements; benefitting corresponding households and Singaporeans. Most notably Presidents S.R. Nathan and Ong Teng Cheong have been passionate drivers of the President’s Challenge and the President’s Star Charity respectively; advancing projects of philanthropy and volunteerism in Singapore. Yet with evolving circumstances there is great potential for the Elected President to exercise more influence in active citizenry.
If our Head of State – above the political and parliamentary fray – shows a desire to listen, then apathetic or lethargic constituents would be additionally motivated to express their opinions. It would definitely be monumental if this culture of change ferments beyond community service, and sufficiently energises Singaporeans in time to come.