Saturday, August 27, 2011

A few good men

Mr Tan Kin Lian has conceded defeat already? Well, I suppose he has been seeing early returns and they don't look good. If he doesn't secure at least 12.5% of the votes, he will lose his deposit of $48,000. I hope he gets to keep it. And even if he does not secure the minimum number of votes, he should get his money back. After all, he didn't throw his hat into the ring on a whim. And he has been described, with the other 3 candidates as honourable and honest. He has run an earnest and clean campaign. So why should the State keep the money?

Give back the man his money!

Singapore must Win

Today is polling day to elect Singapore's next President. By tomorrow, Sunday morning, Singapore will know who its next President is. There is a certain air of excitement - at least that is what I sense in some of my colleagues yesterday as they looked forward to today, never mind that the consequence of the results is, well, inconsequential - nation-wise. We are, after all, electing a figurehead. Though there has been much talk of the President's powers in guarding the reserves and policing senior appointments to government, I would think that the first is an exceptional situation and the second a formality. In a sense, it is no more than buying insurance for that rainy day. I am sure some would lambast me for belittling this whole process and event. My stand is that there should never have been a need for an elected Presidency in the first place. Parliament should just convene and nominate one that is acceptable to the majority in Parliament, and therefore the people. But in Singapore, because the composition of Parliament is not truly representative of the people, we end up with another national election within the space of 4 months, and unlike in years past, 4 candidates are contesting. Some of the candidates assume that they will do what Parliament has failed, or will fail to do - to check on the government and be more active in the formulation of national policies and laws. Since it is illegal not to vote, I'll be heading to the booths this morning to silently voice my choice of a President, however inconsequential.

At his point in time, it appears that Mr Tony Tan and Mr Tan Cheng Bock are front runners. TT hinted that he might lose during his Boat Quay rally speech - "I might not win...but at least I tried..." He must admit that his sons' NS records have done tremendous damage to his bid. Mr Tan Kin Lian almost self destructed yesterday when he hinted that Mr Tan Jee Say was not an honorable man. And I heard in the office yesterday many voices against voting for Mr Tan Jee Say. 'He is a loose canon', 'cannot be trusted', 'too confrontational', 'aiyeerrr', were some of the reasons cited for dropping him from consideration. Perhaps only the opposition politicians and their die-hard followers will cast their vote in his direction. Overall, it appears that only TCB has come through relatively unscathed in the 9 days of campaigning - from being quaint and dowdy to become a credible, warm and sensible man with a Presidential bearing.

So the word on the streets is that the real contest is between TT and TCB - ironically 2 former PAP men. They would likely share 70% of the votes, with the rest split between TKL and TJS.

May the best man win. I hope that all of them will take back their not insignificant $48,000 deposit.

In any case, however voters vote, Singapore MUST win.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Seeing is believing

So how is one to choose the 'correct' person for President of Singapore? You shouldn't apply a political yardstick in making your choice. And there isn't much of a choice if one were to make the decision based on looks. Perhaps if we had a female candidate among the lot, it would be easier, though not necessarily in the looks department. You can attend rallies. There is only one for each candidate, so if you miss it... Listen in on their debates though in the last one organised by The Online Citizen, you might not have found it any more enlightening.

At the end of the day, you can vote for one because your friend is voting for that candidate, although this presents a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Or you do your ini-mini-mai-ni-mor - which is what you probably do at the gambling tables, turning the presidential election into a 'gaming' event. Yet another is by way of elimination - "anyone but this and/or that candidate". This is choosing by not choosing. Or, if you are not satisfied with any of these options, then just combine all these strategies in any meaningful way and some ONE must surely pop up for you to cast your vote for come 27 August 2011.

If you are still lost, may I suggest you go visual. Cast your vote based on your preference for the symbol of each candidate. They are there for a purpose, you know. This is my assessment of each of the candidate's symbols and their meanings:

The Tan Kin Lian hi-5 - This must surely be the most imaginative symbol of the lot. While the hi-five thing is a bit corny, and un-Singaporean, the picture showing a hand within the talk blurb tells me that the candidate behind this symbol not only is a talker, he is also a do-er. And we want a President who not only is eloquent, but does what he says he will do. TKL can do with much improvements in his diction, though.

This one, in my opinion, wins hands down, errmmm, up.

The Tan Jee Say heart: This must surely be the most boring of the lot. In fact, a charge of plagiarism can even be brought against the candidate, i.e. if someone had copyrighted the symbol. Obviously a lot of effort has been spared on creating a meaningful symbol. This universal symbol of love is applicable to everyone and anyone. Unfortunately, many people have used it for both heavenly as well as derogatory purposes, so one is left wondering... Well, give him a ear to find out more about his stand, though not necessarily your heart.

The Tony Tan spec: Perhaps the most recognizable symbol vis-a-viz the candidate. Simple, personal, and I like the spin that has been given to it - taking a long term view, something that is so characteristic of his political career. Obviously this is a spectacle for the long-sighted, the person who is not rash, not impulsive, but one who is reflective, looks at things from all angles. Great symbol, though it doesn't have a winning 'ring' about it.

The Tan Cheng Bok fan: I must say this is the most conventional of the lot. It reminded me of a coffee table book about the Singapore story which featured the stems of a palm tree characteristic of this part of the world that was published a long long time ago. His spin on it is pretty un-imaginative - he might well have used other similar objects such as a hand (well, that is taken), a traditional chinese-type fan, a wind-screen wiper (naah...too few 'leafs'), a rainbow or any semi-circular figure. It was thoughtful though and he does relate it back to his own name though you have to know Chinese to appreciate this point.

A safe bet.

There you have it. Bring your own spin to these and see if it resonates with the candidates'. The choice will then be obvious, don't you think?

Saturday, August 20, 2011


'Crowd control is a function of the police, it is not the function of the President', Mr Tan Jee Say reportedly said in response to a question from a member of the Hainan Tan clan association on his inability to control his supporters when they jeered at his rival, Dr Tony Tan, during Nomination day on Wednesday. The member questioned his ability to control a country if he cannot control his own supporters.

And Mr Tan's answer? It is not the job of a President to do so, that this job belonged to the Police. So he thinks that he is already the President? I am very concerned. What if he really became President? He would be shirking responsibility left, right, up, down, centre and just about anywhere else except himself on anything he wishes to avoid responsibility. Does he not know that as the big boss, the buck, as the Americans say, should stop with him?

I will be concerned, nay, very concerned if Singapore chooses him as President. The last thing Singapore needs is Emperor Tan Jee Say.

Your President

I'll be up front about this. The Singapore Presidential Election has been blown way out of proportion to its significance and its purpose. If it is to elect a representative to give voice to the political aspirations of the people, then Parliament has failed. All the elected MPs have failed to do their jobs. That's because this is what MPs and Parliament are meant to be and to do. And the 'louder' the noise in this election, the greater these are a reflection of these failures.

Once upon a time, the Presidential election was a dignified, if boring event. This is the first time in 18 years that Singaporeans go to the polling booth to cast their votes for a president. So I can understand the excitement, particularly so soon after the Parliamentary elections in May 2011. Obviously many feel that they have not been heard clear enough, or that the results did not reflect that proportion of votes that went either way. So many people, including a particular Presidential candidate, have this delusional impression, that the President can make a difference in the entire political process. Heck, Mr Tan Jee Say and company are treating this contest as an extension of his lost election bid in May. One must be blind not to see this. Surely there was no need for the jeering, which Mr Tan JS' supporters resorted to when Mr Tony Tan introduced himself as a presidential candidate on nomination day. I can understand, and expect this in an American Presidential election, but that's not what Singapore's President is about. I must say that the PAP government made a big mistake in making the Presidency an elected position. Well, they have the majority power to repeal this law and set everything back to what it should be - an appointed position acceptable to Parliament, and therefore the people. And don't anyone go around to say, like Mr Tan Kin Lian, that Parliament is toothless since the PAP government dominates it. Does this mean that we should all give up on Parliament as the true voice of the people and just have the President as the alternate voice? Is this why Mr Tan Kin Lian has never bothered to stand for elections to Parliament?

Yes, we can move in the direction of an executive president, but it involves changing Singapore's system of government away from Parliamentary democracy towards the American model. Maybe we are evolving, so fond is the PAP government in innovating unique features in government, which includes the Group Representation Constituency - another feature that will come to haunt them one day, and lead to the inevitable dismantling of this most undemocratic of institutions.

So to fellow Singaporeans I say - forget about the politics. Choose the one whom you think is best able to represent you as an independent figure above politics, one who will be able to unite and not divide, one who can speak well and present you well as a citizen of Singapore, and guard your interests not only in Singapore but the world as you travel the length and breath of it. Choose the one whom you think can be the face of Singapore regardless of race, language, religion, and, more importantly, regardless of politics (if this is even possible).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sleeping Parliament

There has been much debate, talk, threats, admonishments, etc. regarding the elected presidency in the last month. Electing a President in Singapore used to be a done deal, nothing much to look forward to, no need to cast any vote. In the past, the ruling party, the PAP, has always had it way. The candidate which it endorses always became President, and that includes President Ong Teng Cheong and the present President SR Nathan.

This time, it is different. No less than 4 have put their names name. They are informally referred to as establishment candidates such as Dr Tony Tan and former long-time PAP MP Dr Tan Cheng Bok. Add to that the anti-establishment candidates that are Tan Kin Lian and Tan Jee Say. No one really is independent, when you come to think of it. But more of this can be written in the coming days.

My concern is that the Singapore Parliament has not sat since the end of the last GE in May 2011. I wonder why. No issues since then to discuss? It is odd if this is the case. Singapore is going into unchartered territory, economy-wise, so the governement reminds us. Does this not merit sitting? But more so, non of the elected MPs have been sworn it, 5 months after their election. I wonder about the significance of this swearing in ceremony, since MPs would have gone about their constituency work by now, listening to the people, advising them, writing letters to the powers that be, etc. etc. Does not being sworn in mean that they have any less validity or authority as MPs? Can they, in fact, go about their Parliamentary duties, and that includes seeing people and making representatons on their behalf? If the answer is yes, then it would appear that the swearing in ceremony is dispensable. But if our MPs are doing less for the last 5 months, they would have saved a pretty penny related to being in Parliament for meetings and discussion. Can we ask for some of the allowance back? Its like being on half pay, you know.

The Thai Parliament convened within a month of its election. Of course there was a change in government, which perhaps necessitated the convening of Parliament, but does Singapore has anything less that its law makers can afford to take such as 'long holiday'? No wonder the elected Presidency is being viewed as a GE proxy. Parliament has been as silent as a Church mouse thus far.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

To preside or not

The other day, a friend of mine made the point that a duly elected President in Singapore probably has a greater claim to being the people's representative compared to our Members of Parliament who were elected not too long ago. The reason? Well, many MPs were part of a group of candidates, and the group (known as Group Representative Constituency, or GRC for short) might get elected even if you don't think some one or two of its members deserve your vote. That is why MPs such as Tin Pei Ling would have lost if she had stood on her own.

So this will be proven true in 13 day's time when Singaporeans go to the polls once again, to elect the President of Singapore. There are now 4 contenders - whittled down from 6 due to the extremely stringent qualification criteria. In fact, at one point, there was even speculation that all 6 except one of the candidates would be dis-qualified. It now appears that having a contest is preferred over a walkover. Thus candidates Tony Tan, Tan Kin Lian, Tan Chen Bock and Tan Jee Say - all from the Tan clan - will put forward their reasons for people to elect them next week. It is GE reloaded! Interestingly, after spending so much time and effort in securing qualification, Mr Tan Kin Lian has hinted that he will not, after all, be running. One wonders if this whole thing is about electing an individual to become President, or electing a party/platform to make up for the losses in the last Parliamentary elections? If it is the latter, then Mr Tan Jee Say's candidacy is puzzling. If he wins the Presidency, he will effectively be 'gagged' by the Constitution. Yes, the Government will try its hardest to do that if it thinks you are 'out of line'. He will miss the next GE scheduled in 5 years' time, in 2016, or earlier. A President's terms is for 6 years. Isn't a voice in Parliament more 'free' and effective than that of a President? At least there you can be partisan and push your agenda. As President, you should be above the fray, not siding one way or another, at least not openly. Of course he can resign as President and take part in the GE, should he feel that he has made no headway in the highest post in the land.

Mr Tan is reportedly only 57 this year. I would have wished that he contest the next GE to improve the chances of increasing the number of opposition parliamentarians but this is not to be, unless he can wait another 10 years. By then he will be 67, which is really when he should be standing for President.

Let's see what happens this coming Wednesday, Nomination Day.