noun [ C usually plural ]
UK /mɪˈlen.i.əl/ US /mɪˈlen.i.əl/
a person who was born between around 1981 and 1996
Amid global and domestic complexities, it is more than ever necessary for an independent, elected President who is able to unify Singaporeans and provide a real check on the elected government
A key consideration for a candidate for the position of President has to be that of independence.
As the “second key” against a rogue or failing government, the President bears the heavy responsibility to check against draws on past reserves and the appointments of cronies to key government offices, such as the Chief Justice, Judges of the Supreme Court, Attorney-General, Auditor-General, Director of Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, Chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, Chief of Defence Force and Commissioner of Police.
It is essential, therefore, that any potential candidate does not have close affiliations to the ruling government, otherwise this critical role may not function properly.
A potential candidate should also not be beholden to the PAP government. These include taking money from government investment vehicles such as Temasek Holdings or GIC.
One of the candidates in this election, Mr Ng Kok Song, is understood to have received around S$4 billion in funding for his investment management company, Avanda Investment Management.
Such conflicts of interests will make it incredibly difficult for him to properly perform the role of a “second key”.
Mr Tan Kin Lian, on the other hand, has demonstrated over many years his independence from the ruling People’s Action Party as well as any opposition party, by participating widely in civil society and in various causes.
During the global financial crisis in 2008/09, he independently organised sessions to help affected consumers seek redress from financial institutions and the government. Though he was formerly an ordinary member of the PAP, his refusal to remain beholden to them is clear through his actions over the past decade or more.
The systemic leadership failings of the PAP government – in the economic, social and political spheres, has left Singapore in a precarious position.
For more than 10 years now, Singapore has suffered chronically low GDP growth of below 5%, with the exception of 2021 which was a recovery from the previous year’s negative growth as a result of Covid-19.
This contrasts with almost every other country in Southeast Asia, which has seen higher growth. For a small country like Singapore, such sustained low growth rates are worrying and reflect deeper underlying problems with our economic performance and structure.
Furthermore, the GDP growth figures are largely driven by the significant import of foreign labour. Between 2008 and 2022, Singapore’s total foreign workforce grew at an average 3.4% annually. In some years, such as in 2022, foreign workforce grew 18.6%.
Such astronomical imports of foreign labour not only disrupt the stability and livelihoods of Singaporean workers but have also failed to substantially improve Singapore’s economic growth.
We need a President who will be able to provide alternative perspectives and ideas to the government on how to revive Singapore’s economy and not be over-reliant on foreign labour or companies.
Socially and politically, we have seen increased polarisation in Singapore over the past decade or more – from growing wealth inequality, LGBTQ+ activism and gender wars, to divisive gutter politics at both the General and Presidential Elections (more on Presidential Election below).
Over the past few years, much of the country’s attention has been drawn to and wasted on the repeated failed succession plans of the PAP, the public squabble between PM Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings over their father’s will, and more recently the spate of internal scandals within the PAP.
All these systemic failings of leadership not only point to growing dysfunction within the PAP government, but have also left Singapore in a more precarious and worse-off position than before, at a time when we are facing significant global challenges.
More than ever, a President that is not closely affiliated to the PAP or its organs is necessary to restore the balance in governance and re-unite the country.
The politicisation of the elected Presidency has divided Singapore and made Singapore weaker. We need to restore justice and dignity to the office of President.
Finally, as we have seen in the past few Presidential Elections, eligibility rules have been changed and/or arbitrarily applied to favour the PAP government-endorsed candidate and to disqualify others.
This has severely weakened public and international trust in Singapore’s Presidential elections.
In 2017, the election was made a “reserved election” for a candidate from a minority community, where a “PAP-puppet” President was installed by walkover.
The eligibility criteria for candidates from the private sector was also raised astronomically (by 5 times) to a shareholder’s equity of S$500 million, from S$100 million previously.
Such high qualifying criteria narrow the number of qualifying candidates to a very small, elite pool of persons and prevent many accomplished persons from seeking election.
In this Presidential election, a highly qualified candidate from the private sector, Mr George Goh, was disqualified from nomination based on a narrow and restrictive interpretation of the eligibility rule above, despite managing companies with over S$500 million in shareholder’s equity.
While unfair, the broader question Singaporeans should ask is whether it is necessary for a President to meet such an extraordinarily high (private sector) bar to qualify for election.
Would it be in Singapore and Singaporeans’ interest for Presidential eligibility to be so overly restrictive? Based on this criteria, many of our ministers (and perhaps even the Prime Minister himself) might not qualify should they lose an election and be forced to join the private sector.
In an increasingly troubled world, we need to close ranks and harness our best resources from both the public and private sectors to deal with the growing complexities of challenges.
Mr Tan Kin Lian, with his independence of mind and strong support across political lines, will be best suited to play this role, and to steer Singaporeans towards a new path forward.