Friday, August 19, 2011
This article is written by a friend of mine and I am pleased to post it on my blog.
As the Presidential Election Campaign of Singapore is underway, I would like to share my knowledge on what someone needs to know as they prepare to go to cast their vote.
First and foremost, one must recognise that this is not a run to elect a set of policies that a certain political party professes or practices as against the other. The President should be non-parisan, we are not voting for People’s Action Party (PAP), which is the ruling party, or the “Oppositions”. So please get this right before you proceed and please get over the 2011 GE fever because PAP has won the majority vote and shall be the ruling party for the next 5 years. If you are unhappy about their policies and their performance in the next five years, you will get your chance to vote again in five years’ time. If you think that you want a greater representation to come from PAP, you have your chance too in five years’ time.
If you have finally got over party issue-related sentiments and entanglements deep inside you, we shall proceed to the next important thing which is to understand the system that we have and the role of the President in our system. Unlike the American system, Singapore follows the British system of the Constitution.
The Constitution is made up of the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. Ideally, each of these is meant to be separate and independent for the system to function with sufficient checks and balances based on the idea of separation of powers. One can think of how it was once important to separate the church from the state so as to prevent absolute power from corrupting. In practice, the Legislature and the Executive branch is often fused resulting in the fact that ideal form of separation of power is hardly to be found. The Legislature of Singapore is made up of the President and the Parliament, they are the ones who pass bills; and the Executive of Singapore is made up of the President and the Cabinet, who carry out the policies formulated. And obviously the two is hardly mutually exclusive.
Let us now turn our attention to the Executive branch of the Constitution, or the Government of Singapore, which is made up of the President and the Cabinet which is headed by the Prime Minister. Within the Executive, the President is to act as a check and balance of the Cabinet. However, his ability to exercise his power is often limited by the constituted law. So in reality, the real decision-making power of our Government lies in the hand of the Prime Minister. The role of the President does not however ceased to be important as the need to provide checks and balances is still necessary and relevant, no matter how minimal his authority is.
The Cabinet consisting of fourteen different Ministries works and deliver the policies formulated. It is headed by the Prime Minister, who is none other than Mr. Lee Hsien Long. He has just given his speech on the National Day, addressing policy issues of great concerns to the Singaporean, such as Immigration, Health Care and Housing Cost. All Singaporean looks towards the future with great anticipation of the materialization of these initiatives. To ease your concerns and anxieties about not having any infrastructure to represent your interest, do note that the Government of Singapore has never ceased to work with the fourteen Ministries each working according to the debates in the Parliament. The Parliament now has, with the watershed election of 2011, six Members of Parliament (MP) from the Opposition Party out of the eighty-seven Members of Parliament, excluding the three Non-constituency MPs who do not have full rights in the Parliament.
Having gathered some information of how our Constitution works, we need to acknowledge that the role of the President is primarily that of checks and balances. In 1973, the Presidential Council was changed to Presidential Council for Minority Rights, highlighting the need to safeguards the interests of racial, linguistic and religious minority. And we have in the evidence of past Presidents seen that a delicate balance was created by the choice of a President belonging to a minority group. In this 2011 Presidential Election, such choice is absent as all four contesting candidates belong to the Chinese race. As Singapore has evolved way beyond our racial tensions of the past and the effectiveness of our educational policies such as English as the first language is highly successful, we are quite comfortable to say that our electorate is matured enough to recognize that minorities’ interests are effectively represented. I would say a campaign based on a vision to create racial harmony is superficial and patronizing as real dividing factions exist now perhaps between the locally born and the migrating foreign talents that have increased significantly with policies passed and executed.
So, in choosing our President, geared towards the aim of effective checks and balances, what should we take note of? While we do not have a system of the American where the President is the head of the Executive, balanced by the Congress that is the Legislature, together with the Judiciary in the form of the Supreme Court; neither do we have a Multi-Party Parliament or even the Two-Parties- System like in Japan. We need to understand that Singapore has a history of a One-Party Dominant system since 1965 which is still true until now. Checks and balances have been minimal and even with our watershed election of 2011, the six MP of the opposition can easily be voted out on policies matters that seek to represent alternative concerns. Thus the need to decipher who among the four contesting candidates could provide these checks and balances against this domineering trend is at hand.
All four candidates have worked for the Executive branch of our Government in one way or another, of which three has strong association with the ruling party of Singapore since 1965, the PAP. Some has worked for decades representing the party, and among them Dr Tony Tan has been the Deputy Prime Minister from 1995 to 2005 for ten years. He was the right hand man of the head of the cabinet then. This is not a contest to see who among the four candidates is more capable as it is evident that all four men qualify with flying colours which is why they qualify for the contest and we should not doubt the council that qualify them. It is no doubt that they are all intelligent individuals who love Singapore too. With regards to personal mistakes and corporate errors, these are just colours to spice up the gossip column of the campaign. And do not be distracted by false concerns that are already addressed by the cabinet such as economic growth and fear of recession. We have our new Deputy Prime Minister, also our Minister of Finance and Minister of Manpower, Tharman Shanmugaratnam in place in our Government to take care of that. Be reminded that in March 2011, Tharman was selected Chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), the policy steering committee of the IMF, making him the first Asian elected for this post in history. So do not buy a marketing strategy created upon your fear that is sufficiently addressed by another creditable governmental agent in place. As for Tan Kin Lian who professed to work for the people, do not dismiss the fact that our Union, which he worked for, has never been totally independent of our Government, made up by a One-Party Dominant system. And having recently departed from the agency, one should question if the decision-making mechanism acquired and socialised during his 20 over years of such vocation would leave him sufficiently independent to check upon the system that has moulded him. And all the same goes for the other two high profile ex-PAP members. Can the umbilical cord from the party be realistically severed?
Once again, let me reiterate that all four candidates are capable, intelligent and patriotic. Regardless of where your political interest lies, we need to acknowledge that we have in place a One-Party Dominant system. The question here is not whether this party is what you identify with? One can identify with the party and its policy makers and embrace the results of the government, but that does not eliminate the need for one to realise that checks and balances is absolutely necessary in our system. Even if your allegiance lies with the party, checks and balances are essential to prevent the system from degeneration. If you love Singapore and would want Singapore Government to be a better one, exercise your thoughts logically, putting aside your personal preference for the candidates you have in mind, filter the promises given and test it with facts rather that emotions. And cast your vote wisely. For too long, Singaporean has lived a life attesting to their fear that is close to a myth. The myth has been busted this 2011GE. We are moving towards a matured Government and I’m proud of the electoral, which now understand what the system needs despite having our ruling party that has delivered great results since it has first began. It is my personal wish too to see that it continues to deliver great results in the face of rising challenges of this post-modern international economy and political arena, but notwithstanding the need to serve our people with diligence, being true to their needs, in the form of sufficient checking mechanisms which is absolutely essential. This is not a TV Idol Reality Show. Remember to put aside your emotion. Exercise therefore, a rational vote.
This is a precious piece of my private mind that I’m indulging you because I love Singapore, truly.
Quek Kiat Sing (Political Science Honors Graduate, NUS)