The Elections Department (ELD) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) released a joint statement on Thursday (24 Aug), highlighting “inaccuracies” within the presidential candidate broadcast speech of Mr Tan Kin Lian.
These corrections came to light after certain sections of his speech allegedly misrepresented the Singaporean President’s constitutional role.
The ELD and IMDA clarified that candidates were informed about broadcast timings and rules on 12 August and were subsequently briefed on Monday. It’s obligatory for candidates to submit their script drafts in advance for review.
The joint statement elaborated on the specifics, “Mr Tan Kin Lian’s original script had inaccuracies about the President’s role. He incorrectly suggested that the President could guide the reserves’ investment strategies and influence government policies.”
It was clear the agencies envisioned a strict and constrained role for the Singaporean President.
However, the actions and statements of the current President, Madam Halimah Yacob, challenge this interpretation.
Let’s examine these instances more closely:
Support for Home-Based Businesses:
In May 2020, when the pandemic led to a myriad of business restrictions, Madam Halimah became an unexpected champion for home-based businesses.
Primarily run by women, these enterprises faced challenges during the stringent circuit breaker period. These businesses meet specific criteria in order to continue operating during the circuit breaker period for COVID or face a S$1,000 fine for a first offence.
Madam Halimah’s emphasis on the critical role these businesses play, especially during Ramadan, wasn’t just an offhand comment. She highlighted a stark reality: many of these businesses serve as primary or supplementary income sources for families.
Following her advocacy, there was a notable easing in the stringent circuit breaker rules.
Even though the Government denied backpedalling on its decision, the swift response after her comments leaves us pondering – was it mere coincidence, or did the President’s voice have weight?
Call for Caning Law Review:
The law, which exempts rapists aged 50 and above from caning, came under Madam Halimah’s scrutiny in December last year. Her call for a review wasn’t just a statement – it was a stance.
This came after Mr Murali Pillai’s suggestion in Parliament to reconsider the age limit, which was subsequently rejected by the Law and Home Affairs Minister.
Madam Halimah’s decision to comment publicly, especially with her emphasis on the duty to protect the young, shows that she’s willing to lend her voice to contentious debates.
Even if policies remain unchanged, the President using her platform to discuss legal matters cannot be dismissed.
Both examples showcase Madam Halimah acting more as an advocate than a ceremonial figurehead unlike her predecessors, Mr Tony Tan and late S R Nathan.
These actions contradict the ELD and IMDA’s assertion of the President’s role being confined to the Cabinet’s viewpoints particularly since they do not align with the government’s position.
The question that arises is – what exactly should the Singaporean public expect from their President?
If the role is strictly limited to voicing the Cabinet’s viewpoints, it runs the risk of being perceived as a mere symbolic one, redundant or, worse, as a puppetry post of the ruling party.
On the contrary, if the President can voice concerns, raise issues, and influence public opinion, then the individual’s beliefs, values, and experiences matter tremendously.
Former People’s Action Party Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s recent speech in his first national broadcast, highlighting his wish to use his experience for Singapore’s global interests, further emphasizes this point.
He said, “If you elect me as president, I will also build on my experience in government and my international standing to promote Singapore’s interests, and to project our voice of reason, in an increasingly turbulent world.”
It suggests that the Presidency isn’t just about ceremony but about leadership and representation.
Thus, as Singapore contemplates its next Presidential election, it’s crucial to consider not just the constitutionally-defined role but also the person’s potential to influence, advocate, and represent on national issues.
In this era, where leadership carries undeniable weight, it might be time for Singaporeans to consider if they want a true representative for the people or just someone whom the PAP selected.
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