atans1

When a ceremonial president goes “rogue”

In Political governance, Public Administration on 15/08/2017 at 7:18 am

Nothing much any government can do if it wants to avoid a public row.

This piece tries to explain why die die PAP must get the president PAP wants. And why even then there can be problems. Remember our first elected president?

A look at the relations between India’s ceremonial president (He is the head of the state, and is required by the constitution to act on the advice of ministers) and the governments of the day show how difficult it is to control a president who goes “rogue” ie refuses to act on the advice of ministers even when the constitution says he must.

Our president is more than a ceremonial figure. He is supposed to be a figurehead with some chief jaga duties primarily centred around protecting our reserves. It’s a mixture of ceremonial and custodial functions, thanks to one Harry Lee.

The ceremonial role aspect of our president, a figurehead, is based on the Indian model: he is the head of the state, and is required by the constitution to act on the advice of ministers.

An Indian president is supposedly

a mere figurehead who, in the words of former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is a “head that neither reigns nor governs”, and holds a position of “authority or dignity” more than anything else?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40772945

But as a BBC article tells us http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40772945, the so- called “figurehead” can cause the govt of the day a lot of problems.

The seventh president, Giani Zail Singh … had a stormy relationship with the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In 1987, he withheld assent from a controversial bill passed by the parliament. (The bill was later withdrawn.) There were reports that Mr Singh, who died in 1994 , had even considered sacking Mr Gandhi’s government over an arms purchasing scandal.

The ninth incumbent Shankar Dayal Sharma returned two executive orders to the cabinet in 1996 because they had been “inappropriately” issued before a general election.

And his successor, KR Narayanan, a London School of Economics-educated former diplomat and Dalit (formerly known as “untouchable”), was arguably one of India’s most assertive presidents. He delivered speeches which many believed were not vetted by the government and, in a surprising break from protocol, even gave an interview to a senior journalist.

Mr Narayanan also sent back a proposal to impose direct rule in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to the cabinet, asking the ministers to reconsider it. He bluntly said: “I am not a rubber stamp.”

And he angered many in the government and the media for chiding visiting US president Bill Clinton at a state banquet, provoking the New York Times to comment that “the tensions inherent in forging an Indian-American friendship surfaced with Mr Narayanan’s speech”.

Then there was the previous president

Prof Manor believes Mr Kovind’s predecessor, Pranab Mukherjee, a veteran Congress party leader and a former senior minister, was “more assertive than nearly all previous presidents”.

Although he rejected a record 28 mercy pleas of death row convicts during his tenure, Mr Mukherjee defied the advice of the government and commuted the death sentences of four convicts in January.

“Mr Mukherjee had the right to refer those cases back to ministers for reconsideration once, but when they reiterated the advice, he is required to accept it. He refused to do so,” explains Prof Manor.

“That was potentially explosive politically, and might have led to a constitutional crisis. But the prime minister and cabinet apparently decided not to make an issue of it – because Mr Mukherjee’s term was soon to end, and because a confrontation would have prevented them from doing other important things.”

So one can understand why the ruling party in a de facto one-party state wants to ensure that the presidency is held by someone who will not go “rogue”, especially given that the job has chief jaga duties.  Remember Ong Teng Cheong?

And just to make sure after the rows with Ong, the chief  jaga can be over-ridden: If the President goes against the advice of the majority of the Council of Presidential Advisers and exercises his veto power, Parliament can override such a veto with a two-thirds majority.

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Ownself check ownself check ownself: Paradox of the PAP presidency.

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Whatever, there’s something the PAP cannot avoid: a “rogue” president has the power to publicise via the alternative, new or social media his views when he rows with the PAP administration. So all the more important to make sure kaki lung gets in.

Coming back to Harry Lee who devised the system. He wanted to fix a non-PAP government but ended up tying the PAP administration in knots. The latest twist is a Malay president whose i/c says “Indian”.

Even if she’s really a Malay. 

Oh what a tanled web we weave …

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  1. PAPies can do another “Devan Nair” for those who run amok. I’m sure there are plenty of laws in place to remove elected presidents, just like there was to remove appointed presidents.

    OTC only had that 1 incident during his term. It was a single-use gun & he knew it. After that no more public revelations until after he stepped down. He knew better than to keep on pushing the boundary while still in office.

    Of course prevention is much better than cure, with all the attendant fallout & collateral damage from the super strong chemo drugs. And this is what PAPies are aiming for.

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