atans1

Posts Tagged ‘Presidency’

The Silence of the President

In Political governance on 09/06/2011 at 8:22 pm

(Responding to this. The author feels that the president should be free to speak out on things that the president thinks the government is doing wrong. I had said the president has to remain silent on many things.)

Singapore had a constitutional presidency. The president was S’pore’s equivalent to the monarch in the UK. The monarch has no discretion and must act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet. There would be a constitutional crisis if the monarch fails or declines to act on the advice of the cabinet.

Executive power lies with the elected government of the day. The monarch is above politics. The monarch is a figurehead performing ceremonial functions, but does not exercise political power. This power ultimately resides in the parliament, because the elected government rules only if it is able to command the support of the majority in the parliament.

Substitute the word “monarch” with the word “president” in the preceding two paragraphs and you had, in a nutshell, the legal position of the president.

But this changed with the Elected Presidency amendments in 1991. They introduced a rojak approach. The president was to be elected, with some veto powers over executive decisions. These veto powers may be exercised by the president in his sole discretion, i.e. he does not need to follow the advice of the cabinet on such matters.

But on all other matters, the president continues to be bound by the advice of the cabinet. In this ceremonial or figurehead role, the president, like the monarch, has no discretion. Because they have no discretion, they are above politics. Whatever they do on advice, they cannot be criticised because they are only doing their duty.

By extension, because the monarch is above criticism, the monarch does not give her views on government policies actions, or decisions; or anything faintly political. Have you heard the monarch give her views on anything that could be controversial?

One way of looking at it is as follows: Since she cannot be criticised, the monarch should not put herself in a position where she can be criticised. Another way of looking at it: The monarch cannot have any independent view when she is carrying out a ceremonial function.

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