We the voters will decide what kind of president we want

In Political governance on 12/08/2011 at 7:11 am

From films about the Romans, many S’poreans will be familiar with terms like “emperor” , “consul” and “senator”. What most won’t be familiar with is the word “tribune”.

There was a time, when the tribune was the most powerful man in Rome. He derived his authority (which included being above the law) because he was the only leader who had to win a Rome-wide election where all the citizens voted. He was apponted by the will of the people, and derived his powers from the simple fact of winning an election where all Romans voted.

In the S’pore context, even though, those who argue that the president can be an activist president do not have the law (OK the lawyers) on their side, their views could still prevail. In a democracy (assuming S’pore is one), the will of the people matters.

In 1975, Australia had a constitutional crisis which started when the opposition-controlled senate refused to pass legislation allowing the unpopular Labor government to spend money (block supply). It ended when the Labor appointed governor- general sacked the Labor prime minister who still commanded a majority in the house of representatives. An election of both houses of parliament followed, and Labor lost.

Even though the senate retains its power to block supply, and the governor-general the power to dismiss the government, these powers have not been used since 1975.

The reason is that these actions are considered too controversial to try again. The Australian public has decided that whatever the constitution allows, the senate should not block supply, nor should the government be sacked by the governor-general. The government can only lose power in a general election or if loses the support of the majority in the house of representatives.

Putting this into the S’pore context, the role of the elected president can be changed (without changing the constitution) if

– an eligible candidate says he will be an “activist” president;

– he gets elected;

– he walks the walk, not juz talk the talk; and

– the government, instead of removing him or ignoring him or telling him to shut up, listens to him.

Then the role of the president will change by convention (customary practice). And if the government ignores him or removes him, then the voters at the next GE will have the final say. They can remove the government that doesn’t want an activist president.

Is this easier than winning two-thirds of the parliamentary seats and amending the constitution? At least this process doesn’t depend on the People in Blue, the near clones of the MIW.

  1. inshallah! amen! shalom!

  2. I agree. While TT is sly to urge Singaporeans to vote for a candidate to fit the existing post (ie. no reform, status quo) he’s merely parroting what the PAP wants.

    If the electorate votes in a Presidential candidate who campaigned on the ground of speaking out on issues where it matters, then in both theory and in spirits, they wanted the constitution to have the flexibility to reflect the context as is.

    However, if people were to choose Tony Tan, then they pretty much agree they want another silent Nathan. That’s another 6 years of torture for the citizens of Singapore.

  3. If Tony Tan were to be elected as the next President of Singapore, then it would be fair to say that most Singaporeans have been satisfied with SR Nathan’s style of presidency – i.e. subordinating himself to the Prime Minister’s will instead of exercising what has been stated in the Constitution pertaining to the President’s powers. In other words, a “Yes-man” President.

    Let us see what the will of the people of Singapore will be. Status quo or change for the better?

  4. Just a historical note about the tribunes. It’s not true that they were elected by all the people of Rome, for only the plebeians voted. They were not above the law in themselves, only that the plebeians swore an oath to kill anyone who harmed their representatives. In other words, it was a constant and unremitting threat of physical violence to enforce the will of the tribune.

    • See I got to be careful abt what I say abt the Romans. )))

      My excuse: writing for mass audience. And given the support on-line coming out in favour of TSJ, didn’t want to give his supporters the idea that they could do to his critics what the plebians did in support of their tribunes.

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