MP calls for elected presidency to be scrapped

MP calls for elected presidency to be scrapped
Nomination Day for the 2011 presidential election. Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) argued in Parliament that the role of the presidency should return to a ceremonial one.

SINGAPORE - The elected presidency (EP) ought to be scrapped and the role should return to a ceremonial one, said Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC).

She had argued in 2011 that with more vocal People's Action Party backbenchers and an increased opposition presence in the House, there was no longer a need for additional checks on the Government.

Picking up on the same theme, she said: "If the conditions under which (the elected presidency) have changed, let us have the courage to slay these sacred cows before they become obese and unhealthy."

Her concerns are twofold. First, she is worried about the powers given to the President, such as control over financial reserves and key public office appointments.

Her call echoes Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang's speech on Monday, views which Ms Phua said she shares. Mr Low had on Monday described the presidency as a "weakness" that could cause the very gridlock President Tony Tan Keng Yam discussed in his opening address on May 16.

The Government can be paralysed by the President exercising his blocking power if they do not see eye to eye, he said.

These powers were awarded following a constitutional amendment in 1991, to prevent the possibility of a rogue government that might dip into the reserves to pursue a populist agenda.

Until then, the presidency was a ceremonial role. And Ms Phua said yesterday she longed for a return to those days.

Recalling former presidents Yusof Ishak and Benjamin Sheares, she said she wished for statesmen "who need not be slugged through yet another political campaigning process that divides the country instead of healing and uniting the people of Singapore".

Second, she expressed concern about the lower qualifications of EP candidates.

Among others, a key requirement for the EP candidate is that he must have been a chief executive of a Singapore company with paid-up capital of at least $100 million.

In the 2011 presidential election, doubts surfaced over the eligibility of candidates Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian.

The former helmed an asset company that did not meet this, while the latter last served as head of NTUC Income - a co-operative, not a company.

Ms Phua said that the scheme "has admitted candidates who were non-executive chairmen of companies or portfolio managers with no strong solid executive experience, expecting them to exercise the very critical executive functions expected of the Elected President".

Scrapping the EP is timely, she added, arguing that citizens should learn to bear the consequences of their votes, instead of looking to a president to protect them.

"If the government of the day is elected by popular vote, the electorate has to live with its elected candidates and remove them at the next General Election should there be better choices," she said.

In addition, she urged the public service to "upgrade its operating system". It must consider how it selects and develops leaders.

"There is a need to re-think the kinds of competencies we need for leadership in the civil service," she said. "Is there still a need for an elite admin service which primarily admits persons of a specific form of intelligence?"

Without these changes and a more compassionate and inclusive society, she is fearful that the President's assurance of a brighter future may be misplaced.

She said: "Until the majority of us agree on the social contract that governs our society, I am afraid our best days may be over."

This article was first published on May 28, 2014.
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