Why it happened
Unendorsed candidates; next challenger could be greater
threat to the PAP. By Seah Chiang Nee.
Aug 15, 2005
The controversy of Mr. Andrew Kwan's candidacy has come
to a sudden, decisive end, but it is a victory for no one.
In fact, the opposite may be true.
the nation and every Singaporean have lost something. On
the morning after, people are either angry or baffled.
one or two emotional weeks, both sides seemed to have forgotten
about the dignity of the presidency, and that the issue
is not just about Mr. S.R. Nathan or Mr. Andrew Kwan.
about the future of a revered, crucial institution.
presidency. As a unifier of all Singaporeans, a
guardian of minorities, the office was greatly shaken after
it was subjected to rude, antagonistic politics that it
was never intended for. The campaigning was, to put it lightly,
People's Action Party. Coming so soon after NKF,
this new controversy will be another vote loser although
nowhere near the former's scale.
against Mr. Nathan's re-election became counter-productive
when the organisers got only about 75 signatures (NKF: 43,000).
It might even have convinced the government that the damage
would be limited. Petitions, we now know, can work both
however, the strong-arm tactics that have caused the government
some loss of image, particularly when Kwan's ineligibility
was, in the media's view, "expected" and "welcomed".
decision by Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) and Hyflux to
join the public fray against Kwan rebounded badly and is
viewed - rightly or wrongly - as government inspired.
who actually supported Mr. Nathan remarked to me, "For
a brief moment, it made our politics look like Cammbodia's".
it was quite unnecessary and unbecoming for the 21st Century,
reminiscent of the bad old days that Mr. Lee Hsien Loong
is persuading Singaporeans are no longer here. It's just
what the PAP does not need before an election.
Mr. Kwan. It's even worse for him. The public display
of his work records (even if some are exaggerated) will
leave him at least a little battered and bruised.
the government, the first order is damage control of the
presidency. That cannot be achieved if it were to treat
Mr. Kwan as an enemy to be destroyed or punished.
worsen matters if some one were to decide to treat Mr. Kwan
as a security threat like the rest of the political exiles
who take refuge abroad.
proof is shown otherwise, Kwan is not an enemy or threat
and it will be a grave mistake to treat him as one. In fact,
if the re-elected president were to extend an olive branch,
it would be a good healing move.
is undergoing great social changes and old political ways
often do not work.
no president can function if he is acceptable to only a
portion of Singaporeans and rejected by others, especially
the youths. It will make the office meaningless and will
not help the PAP cause.
another endorsed person be more effective than Mr. Nathan?
Maybe yes, maybe no, I have no idea, but the government
must ponder sometime in the future.
bigger, long-term issue
controversy was unavoidable, given the nature and purpose
of the elected presidency that some people have forgotten.
The trouble is that it will likely happen again.
the constitution was changed to turn an appointed, ceremonial
president into an elected one with custodial responsibilities
over Singapore's reserves - among other executive functions.
to hold 'a second key' to the vault, a check-and-balance
role against possible corrupt leaders after Mr. Lee Kuan
objective was well intentioned but like many things, the
devil lies in the details.
election was to give him the mandatory clothing needed for
his responsibilities, but it wasn't designed to be a choice
between pro- and anti-government candidates.
of the worries was a possible constitutional crisis if the
prime minister and the president were to come from different
political parties or disagree over the use of the reserves.
fear of a constitutional gridlock was very real.
would happen if a future president is unable to work with
the political leadership, or worse, be at loggerheads with
it? But the drafting was urgent; Mr. Lee was about to leave
as Prime Minister.
answer was obviously to ensure that the elected president
must be politically compatible with the executive, election
or no election.
really an impossible task over the long term outside an
authoritarian setting when people can freely exercise their
choice. How could the PAP ensure that "a compatible"
president would be elected?
chosen path was to control the qualifications of the candidate
and vetting his qualifications.
has knocked but found the door slammed shut. He had a strong
advantage and a reasonable chance of causing an upset. He
is Chinese, 30 years younger and outside the elite establishment.
thing is clear from this controversy. The PAP will pull
out all its weapons to ensure that presidential candidates
are people that it endorses to prevent a political crisis
and a constitutional crisis.
has to be a real contest (as between Mr. Ong Teng Cheong
and Mr. Chua Kim Yeow), both candidates will have to be
acceptable to it.
president must be, from the PAP's point of view, someone
who can work with the political leadership.
whole thing is ironic and possibly flawed. The elected president
is paid a lot of money - S$2.4m a year - to be independent
and strong enough to stand up to protect Singaporeans' wealth.
in the same breadth, the cabinet would rather he doesn't
do it too strenuously, at least not now. So work hard, but
please don't work so hard, he's tacitly told.
happened in 1993 when the revered Elected President Ong
Teng Cheong criticised the government for withholding information
about the city's reserves from him.
an experience the PAP would rather not see again, as long
as it is in power.
Seah Chiang Nee