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Why U-turn on elected president

In Political governance on 24/01/2016 at 1:36 pm

Lasi Thursday, I pointed out that the post of president, whether elected or appointed has been problematic for the PAP because an elected president (Ong Teng Cheong) and an appointed president (Devan Nair) have proved embarrassments to the PAP.

In this post, I’ll explain why I think two PAP apologists are showing off their intellectual deficiencies in their rush to show that the elected president is problematic for S’pore’s political stability.

— Professor Kishore Mahbubani* believes that we should consider the possibility that a rogue president could be elected, and that we should consider having the president be chosen by Parliament once again (“Let’s talk about policy failures and the elected presidency“.

One Herod Cheng, on the issue that an elected presidency doesn’t work for S’pore)

There’ll be great black comedy when the PM has to explain publicly why an appointed president can be a better protector of reserves and minorities than an elected president can. Didn’t the PAP say only an elected president has the electoral mandate to resist Mad Dog Chee’s plans to squander the reserves if said Mad Dog became PM?

Ownself contradict Oneself. Or should it be “Ownself argue against Ownself”?

Before the last PE, I wrote a post (see below) arguing with part of my tongue firmly in my cheek that the voters could change the role of the presidency. The piece was inspired by the bid of Tan Jee Say who was widely perceived to be the preferred choice of the SDP. His rallies looked like SDP rallies. Could it be that Mad Dog Chee was Coyote (the trickster god), realising that the SDP could change the rules of how S’pore is governed by getting its preferred candidate chosen by the people as president.

In a sense the voters really changed the nature of the presidency: by showing the PAP that 65% of the voters didn’t want the PAP’s preferred candidate, even though he was an honourable, likeable, competent and experienced guy. “Anyone but the PAP’s preferred candidate” was the refrain that PM, his dad and the other PAP leaders heard from us the rabble.

This surely has the PAP worried because anything less than 60% of the popular vote is looked upon as a defeat. So the last PE, although its preferred candidate won by a really short nose, was a really a defeat for the PAP.

Hence the apologists are out prostituing their mental deficiencies.

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We the voters will decide what kind of president we want

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.

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  2. Only ONE reason for contemplating the change: All things being equal TT stands a more than 50-50 chance of losing the PE. That is the NIGHTMARE that LHL wants to avoid at all cost. I can virtually guarantee that by the time of the next PE, the elected president will be no more! What beast would be installed in its place is your guess as good as mine. Maybe a CONSTITUTIONAL President who can only act on the advice of a PAP appointed council. It’s all a game where the PAP decides all the rule and conditions.

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