Voting for change and invalid votes

(L to R) Mr Tan Jee Say, Mr Tan Kin Lian and Dr Tan Cheng Bock

by Toh Soh Lung

I have never cast a blank or invalid vote. When friends tell me that they will cast an invalid vote because opposition candidates were clowns and unfit to represent them, I always try to persuade them to cast valid votes.

I tell them that if they don’t want to vote for the People’s Action Party (PAP), then the least they could do was to save the deposit of the opposition candidate who had the courage to stand for election.

In earlier times, opposition candidates were often sued for defamation by elected PAP candidates or charged for sedition after the election.

As a candidate in the general election 2011, I hate to think that people who cast invalid votes believed that I was a clown or did not possess qualities to represent them.

Every person who stands as a candidate against the PAP possesses tremendous courage. So many have been bankrupted by PAP leaders.

You can read about these cases in Ridiculous, Untold Tales of Singapore published by Function 8 and available at Kinokuniya and City Book Room.

As in a general election, this presidential election gives us an opportunity to choose one candidate. It is wrong to call all three candidates clowns and unfit to represent our country.

Each one of them staked S$48,000 as a deposit just to let us have a choice. If they fail to garner 12.5% of the valid votes cast, they will lose their deposits.

In a three corner fight, it is not easy to garner 12.5% of valid votes. So if we really dislike all the candidates and detest the presidential system, I think we should not be so unkind as to cause any of them to lose his deposit! Give credit for their courage. Cast a valid vote for the weakest candidate.

Experts tell us that our elected president has no power. While it is true that the president has limited powers and largely acts on the advice of the cabinet and the Council of Presidential Advisers, it is wrong to say that he is has absolutely no power.

An active, independent and creative president can achieve many things. Take the case of petitions for clemency for a death row prisoner. We know that all petitions are addressed to the president but referred to the cabinet for consideration and advice. It is the cabinet that ultimately advise the president to allow or disallow a petition.

But a responsible and independent president must take the initiative to read all papers concerning the prisoner.

If he is of the view that a prisoner deserves to be pardoned, it is his duty to meet the prime minister and members of the cabinet. It is his duty to persuade them to agree with him.

If he is not independent or inactive, he will simply wait for the advice of the cabinet and instruct his staff to respond accordingly or even ignore petitions as always happened in the past.

Mr Tan Kin Lian had, in one of his interviews said that he will not blindly reject clemency petitions.

He believes that not every prisoner deserves the death penalty and that allowing a petition is not a sign of weakness on the part of the government. He does not believe that allowing one petition will result in setting a precedent for clemency for all prisoners.

Throughout the presidency of Tony Tan, S R Nathan and now Halimah Yacob (though her term has not yet ended), no prisoner has been granted clemency.

These presidents were all selected by the PAP government and it is clear that they simply carried out the cabinet’s advice.

Until today, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Mr Ng Kok Song have not indicated their views on the death penalty. The choice for me is therefore clear.

I would rather have a president who reads clemency petitions and all documents pertaining to the prisoner rather than one who simply forwards them to the cabinet and carries out their wishes.

As a former Internal Security Act prisoner, I know that the president has the power to order detention without trial. In light of what Mr Tan Kin Lian said about clemency petitions, I believe he too will not detain innocent people under the Act.

Many Singaporeans have suffered decades of detention without trial in the past. An independent president will not simply sign detention orders without investigation.

Dr Tan Cheng Bok and Mr Tan Jee Say, who were candidates for the presidency in 2011 have now endorsed Mr Tan Kin Lian.

It does not take much imagination to conclude that if Mr Tan Kin Lian is elected president, both Dr Tan Cheng Bok and Mr Tan Jee Say will be appointed by him to the Council of Presidential Advisers.

This development is certainly very important and welcoming. With their collective wisdom and experience, I am sure they will be able to bring change that will benefit all Singaporeans.

So if we are tired of “More of the Same”, please vote for change. Vote Mr Tan Kin Lian.

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