SINGAPORE: As Singapore gears up for the Presidential Election on 1 September, former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Yee Jenn Jong has put forth an insightful perspective on the unfolding political narrative surrounding the event.
In a Facebook post on 20 August, Yee outlined the presidential contenders: former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song, and former NTUC Income chief Tan Kin Lian.
He expressed disappointment over businessman George Goh’s disqualification, noting a shared sentiment among Singaporeans: the challenge of voting for a candidate they respect, such as Tharman, while feeling disconnected from the perceived political machinations behind the scenes.
Yee delved into the controversial changes made before the 2017 election. The constitution was amended to categorize the event as a reserved election and recognized the late President Wee Kim Wee as the first Elected President – a move that raised eyebrows.
This new framework set the eligibility bar extremely high for private sector candidates, making it impossible for the likes of TCB to participate, despite his earlier enthusiasm.
Moreover, two accomplished Malay candidates from the entrepreneurial sector found themselves ineligible. Conversely, Yee pointed out the irony that a Speaker of Parliament, overseeing one of the smallest annual public sector budgets, still qualified.
The influence of the People’s Action Party (PAP) has long been an underlying theme in these elections. George Yeo’s latest book provides a lens into the internal mechanics of the PAP, highlighting strategies and decision-making processes that have shaped past presidential races.
Yee cited how Tharman, despite his significant popularity, is perceived as an extension of the PAP, suggesting that a vote for him might be seen as an endorsement of the party.
He further stated, “Any sort of voting is a sort of referendum on the government,” emphasizing the intertwined nature of individual candidacies and broader political sentiments.
Current challenges faced by the PAP, such as the rising cost of living, recent hikes in the Goods and Services Tax (GST), controversies, and the delayed 4G leadership transition, have further complicated the election narrative.
Delving into historical context, Yee reflected on the 1993 Presidential Election where Ong Teng Cheong faced off against Chua Kim Yeow.
Despite Chua’s last-minute campaign efforts, he managed to secure 41.3% of the votes, indicating a significant number of protest votes against the establishment’s choice.
Yee believes that Ong’s popularity was undervalued, and the votes he garnered didn’t reflect his standing accurately.
Yee’s reflections extend to the upcoming PE2023. If George Goh had been greenlit, the dynamic would be distinct, perhaps culminating in a four-way battle with Goh securing a commendable second.
Yee conjectures Tharman’s impending victory, attributing it to his vast appeal and the weighty PAP voting bloc. Yet, Goh’s exclusion might mar Tharman’s triumph, casting shadows of doubt and speculation.
In his analysis, Yee also mourns the gradual politicization of what should be a revered institution, with the presidential office seemingly morphing into a political spectacle every six years.
He criticizes the architects of the constitutional changes, suggesting they might not have foreseen challenges from individuals like TCB or private-sector stalwarts, despite these modifications.
The continuous rule alterations, especially those preceding PE2017, have seemingly agitated many Singaporeans.
Yee warns that locating another universally appealing figure like Tharman for future elections might prove arduous for the establishment.
Historical data from contested PEs showcase that when confronted with a legitimate, independent contender, a substantial number of protest votes emerge, countering the establishment’s narrative.
Tharman’s entrance into the fray, Yee notes, comes at a transformative juncture for Singapore.
The upcoming developmental phase necessitates a fresh presidential demeanor. Yee concludes by expressing hope that should Tharman secure the role, he would rejuvenate the presidency, emphasizing independent thought.
Ultimately, he envisions a future where the nation might reconsider the existing structure, opting for a more stable and less theatrical system, possibly a senate, ensuring checks and balances.