Many things president cannot do

In Political governance on 08/06/2011 at 7:23 am

I am getting very concerned that those who call on George Yeo to stand for election to the post of president, and most of those who support Dr Tan Chin Bok’s and Tan Kin Lian’s plans to stand at the presidential election, do not know the role of the president.

Based on their media and online comments, I get the impression that they think that the president has the power to act as a check on the government of the day.

As Siew Kum Hong blogged many moons ago, the role of the president is very circumscribed. The president has some veto powers over executive decisions. But on all other matters, the president is bound by the advice of the Cabinet.

This means he is not a check on the government of the day on matters where he is bound by the decisions of the ruling party.

If he goes against the government of the day (or even speaks out against it) on matters where he must listen to the government’s advice, there will be a constitutional crisis.

He also cannot use the office of president as a bully pulpit to advocate policies that he would like the government to adopt. He also has to avoid talking on “controversial” matters.

So, if for example Tan Kin Lian becomes president, he cannot speak out on of the need for a minimum wage, on the honesty and integrity of financial advisers, or whether lawyers, doctors and architects overcharge for certain services. He definitely cannot publicly ask the AG to look into prosecuting financial institutions or land bank businesses for “cheating” the public.

These things are not done, and if done will cause constitutional problems, if not crises.


For the record, I helped out when TKL was fighting for the rights of minibonders etc. I never bot these instruments but if my mum had banked with any one of those financial institutions selling these products, there was a gd chance that she would have been persuaded to try these products. Fortunately, she banked with OCBC and POSB.  The main reason why I helped out was because it could have happened to my mum.

  1. […] Lian’s Blog: President has to work within the Constitution – Thoughts of a Cynical Investor: Many things president cannot do – Thoughts of a Singapore Statistician: Tan Kin Lian leads the way with Transparency and Political […]

  2. and what exactly is wrong if the president causes a ‘constitutional’ crisis for doing the right thing?

    the president is definitely not a puppet. And it will definitely be nice to have a president who will speak out on those thing you have mentioned that will cause a crisis. I think we will like that crisis. Maybe not investors or people who have cash to play in the stock markets.

    Why can’t he publicly call out the AG to investigate matters? AG can don’t listen 🙂 But he surely can call!

    Why should he avoid controversial matters? He needs to seek re-election again right? Just like the PAP, what are their chances in 2016 if they do not change, they won’t definitely, they super wayang as can be seen.

    TKL only has to ask where is our reserves and HOW much is it. That’s enough. Since he has CPIB that reports to him, maybe he can ask CPIB to check on conflict of interest cases.

    Exactly whats wrong with doing the right thing?

  3. “Exactly whats wrong with doing the right thing?”

    Not allowed. President can be impeached for trying.

    Want to do what you call the “right” thing?

    Get the constitution changed via huge parly majority. 80 seats shld do the trick.

  4. then try impeaching 🙂 Never stop a man for doing the right things

    We have enough of white on white doing things right. (Even that is few and far between now)

    We need people to do the RIGHT things.

    Their political careers will end sooner if they try to impeach a president doing the right things.

  5. CPIB does not report to the President, but to the Prime Minister instead. CPIB is in the PMO.

  6. Article 22G empowers the President to allow CPIB to investigate senior bureaucrats (including the Prime Minister) without the approval of the PM if a situation of such does occur. This is an important check on the power of the 1-party rule. Unless that executive power has been weakened subsequently to render it useless, I’m not aware of it.

    Of course, if the President is an ex-PAP candidates, will he have the integrity and courage to do the right thing (potentially whistle-blow on his long-standing colleagues and their families) is another thing. Thus the importance to have an Independent President who is not only neutral, but also guided with integrity, accountable to its citizens.

  7. Will the cabinet impeach the President if he speaks out for the poor, the old, and the underprivileged on issues such as minimum wage, immigration, death penalty, and CPF? Because of Singapore’s unique circumstances, a more outspoken President with compassion will effect policy change for the good of the People.

  8. Our Presidential roles are still evolving as past Presidents and current one had done little to test them. In fact it should be tested if key issues arose. Part of growing up. Good day.

  9. I disagree with the statement that a President who speaks up will cause a consituitional crisis. I have done the following posting on my blog.

    Looking forward to a friendly, mature debate.

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