Voting for oath-breakers: The dangerous signal it sends to democracy

by Victor

On 11 Aug 2023, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong issued the Writ of Election, paving the way for Singaporeans to go to the polls on 1 Sep 2023 (Polling Day) to vote for the next President of Singapore.

Initially, there were four potential presidential candidates, namely Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Mr Ng Kok Song, Mr Tan Kin Lian and Mr George Goh. On 22 Aug 2023(Nomination Day), Returning Officer Tan Meng Dui announced the successful presidential candidacies of Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Mr Ng Kok Song and Mr Tan Kin Lian.

The Presidential Elections Committee determined Mr George Goh to be ineligible as he had failed to satisfy a requirement that many people found to be controversial.

​This article is purely based on the personal opinions of the author.

1. President’s relationship with the Government


Before 1991, the President was appointed by the Parliament of Singapore, consisting of Members of Parliament, including both Non-Constituency and Nominated ones who represent the interests of Singaporeans at large.

After a constitutional amendment that same year, the President is now directly elected by Singaporeans. It is now 12 years since Singaporeans last exercised their voting rights to elect the President since the walkover election for the Reserved Election in 2017

It’s fair to say that the President is an important key in defending the country’s reserves against a rogue Government and, hence he or she should take a cautionary position when dealing with the Government.

It’s also fair to say that, in times of crises such as Covid-19, the President is morally obliged to prioritise the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans by reviewing and approving Budgets presented by the Government.

As such, how should Singaporeans view this type of relationship? Since both the Government and the President are directly elected through parliamentary and presidential elections respectively, voters must have a distinct consideration which must not be influenced by either the Government or the presidential candidates.

Singaporeans vote for a Government to run the country and a President to ensure the Government does its job well.

2. Qualifications of a President

One important thing to note is the fact that, once again, we have a PAP minister resigning at the last minute to contest for presidency, suggesting whether the Elected Presidency is in danger of being exclusively meant for former PAP members.

Unlike outgoing President Halimah who was merely an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC and Parliament Speaker prior to her resignation in 2017, Tharman has magnificent working experiences in various portfolios and is widely considered to be a heavyweight minister in the Government.

Hence his sudden decision to run for presidency with limited powers does not make sense and undermines the effectiveness of the Government’s decision-making body.

Globally, Singapore’s international image has taken a hit as a result of Tharman’sgrand absence. At home, Tharman is no longer able to contribute his valuable economic experiences to ensure Government policies make good economic sense.

Surely it’s more beneficial to everyone that he remains where he was rather than becoming President?

Below is a list of portfolios Tharman is resigning from:

  1. MP for Jurong GRC
    Senior minister in the Cabinet,
  2. Coordinating Minister for Social Policies
  3. Chair of G20 Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance
  4. Chairman of MAS
  5. Deputy Chairman of GIC
  6. Chairman of EDB’s International Advisory Council

Ng Kok Song was formerly the Chief Investment Officer of GIC for the period 2007-2013 and director of MAS for the period 1985-1986.

Currently, he’s the Chairman of Avanda Investment Management, a privately-owned global asset management company.

During his tenure in GIC, the annualised rolling 20-year real rate of return for GIC portfolio took a dive in 2009 (due to the 2008 financial crisis) before recovering to a higher and more consistent rate from 2010 onwards.

As the only candidate without political affiliation to any political party, Ng has a good advantage of demonstrating political independence as compared to Tharman and Tan, both of whom are formerly political party members.

In the case of Tan Kin Lian, he was formerly the Chief Executive Officer of NTUC Income for the period 1977-2007. At the same time, he held various directorships, notably the Chairman of International Co-operative & Mutual Insurance Federation for the period 1992-1997. He is perhaps better known for organising petitions to help people who lost their money during the 2008 financial crisis.

3. Significance of your vote

For someone who in 2020 was voted into parliament by the voters of Jurong GRC, solemnly and sincerely took the oath of office as MP of Jurong GRC and then unilaterally resign in 2023 without a vote of referendum from its voters, Tharman should further elaborate on his last minute decision.

For instance, President Halimah’s 29 May announcement is followed by Tharman’s 8 June announcement, giving the impression that Tharman’s decision is somehow triggered by Halimah’s decision.

In the case of Ng, as mentioned earlier, although he has good merits and political independence, the fact that his announcement to run for the presidency also comes at a very late stage is not convincing to a reasonable person.

As for Tan, who contested in the 2011 election and is now back for the 2023 election, his decision to run for presidency once again should not be a surprise.

In the past three years or so, in order to mitigate the negative impacts of Covid-19 on Singaporeans, the Government dished out an unprecedented number of Budgets which involved the drawing of the country’s reserves.

These Budgets aim to help Singaporeans in various sectors of the economy, either by providing relief to companies in industries most affected or providing food vouchers and even cash disbursement to its people.

As Singapore moves into the post-Covid era, the economy now faces more challenges, especially with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and US-China geopolitical contest causing disruptions in global supply chains, therefore magnifying the significance and importance of the Presidential Election for Singaporeans.

Personally, I give more credit to the ethics, rather than the professional qualification, of the presidential candidate because, as mentioned earlier, the President can only exercise powers as stipulated by the Constitution and nothing more.

A vote for a candidate who abandons its constituents he or she solemnly and sincerely swear to represent and instead job hop elsewhere without a valid reason not only is undemocratic but also sends a wrong signal that oath-taking in parliament can be disrespected without consequences.

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