The right choice for President
To remove any doubts about process, open up vetting of candidates to scrutiny
Monday • August 8, 2005
POLITICAL scientists have argued that electoral institutions are created by political elites to achieve certain social and political outcomes.
In a young nation like ours — and speaking as a young Singaporean — I hope they reinforce our sense of shared purpose and destiny.
The Presidential election on Aug 27 has prompted some debate among Singaporeans about whether there will be a "genuine contest" — a question that will be answered on Nomination Day on Aug 17.
But it is important to look beyond the election, to the underlying implications of the Elected Presidency and the role of the Presidential Election Committee.
At the end of the day, do we perceive the office intuitively as an elite-centred, elite-serving one that is set apart from the people — or as one that is people-centred and potentially a unifier and a guardian of the nation's interests?
The answer may lie partly in Singaporeans' perceptions of the committee and its workings.
The committee's role, in a nutshell, is to certify, through issuing the necessary Certificates of Eligibility, that a candidate is "a person of integrity, good character and reputation"; and that the person has, in its opinion, the "experience and ability" to carry out the duties of the office effectively.
While the committee is guided by qualifying criteria dictated by the Constitution — such as executive and financial experience in a Government body or company worth at least $100 million — the detailed proceedings of the committee's decision are not revealed publicly. Nor is there a judicial review of the committee's decision.
If, hypothetically, a corrupt Government were to come to power, a more transparent committee would make it harder for an irresponsible Government to install a crony as President, or to arbitrarily dismiss their own nominee's opponents as people lacking "integrity, good character and reputation". [Falls off chair laughing][Surely the use of 'if' and then 'hypothetically' is an example of redundancy for all of you out their studying TOEFL, or is the young student smarter than the editors at Today?]
The importance of having a non-partisan President cannot be underestimated, as he or she must perform the role of safeguarding the country's interests and reserves.
To secure the constitutional purpose of the Elected Presidency, as well as to overcome any perception of elitism, the committee might find it advantageous to open up the selection procedure to scrutiny.
One way might be to introduce a review system of the committee's decision so as to make the certification process more transparent.
A bolder suggestion would be to remove the pre-qualification process altogether. The committee would then act as an advisory body which would recommend to the public its preferred candidates.
Do Singaporeans derive a sense of unity from the Elected Presidency?
Arguably, many heads of state around the world, regardless of their constitutional powers, inspire a sense of patriotism in citizens.
What would it take to strengthen Singaporeans' sense of respect for and affinity with the President?
In times of crisis, we have looked to the Government for guidance. However, in times of a major crisis, would we also look to the President to serve as the embodiment of our nation, as a source of unity and strength, regardless of one's political, economic and social positions?
The Constitution spells out the office's specific veto powers over critical appointments and budgetary purse-strings. Can the people expect the President to ensure that the nation's best interests are looked after — even if he or she might have to battle with a less-than-honest Government, or arbitrate in the face of competing visions of the public good?
Singaporeans who have thought critically about their expectations and their potential contributions to the Elected Presidency will have developed a purposeful approach towards the election of the seventh President.
Instead of indulging in cynical conversations, as some do, they would do well to express their wishes for the Elected Presidency and the committee to their representatives.
They should also educate the young about the roles of the Elected Presidency and the committee, and cast their vote on Aug 27 — assuming they have the chance to.
The writer is a Singaporean student at Carleton College, Minnesota, and a research intern with a local think-tank.