Friday, August 26, 2011

The Neutral, Non-Partisan and Natural Choice Tomorrow

For those who are not voting Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock for their ties to the PAP, that leaves us with only Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian.

Tan Kin Lian started off well in the race and would have lured the opposition and moderate votes away from the PAP camp. Then Tan Jee Say got into the game and like the mythological Siren, he seduced away voters from the former NTUC Income CEO. All is fair in love, war and politics. This is a game of high political and personal stakes - salary, responsibility, foot-in-the-door opposition influence, and the future of the form and function of the presidency. Everyone has to be "mature adults" about the competition in the presidential elections as Tan Jee Say mentioned during the TOC Presidential Face to Face forum and CNA's Meet the Candidates.

That Tan

From the way Tan Jee Say presented himself since Nomination Day when his supporters booed away the PAP proxy, Tony Tan, the PAP and the public would expect a confrontational populist president if he is elected into Office. Expect brinkmanship and the stubborn PAP ignoring whatever the SDP-backed candidate might advise from his seat in the Istana. For the Cabinet, to treat a former civil servant who joined the SDP camp as the president would be a humiliating slap in their face. Furthermore, frankly, Tan Jee Say does not appear to have the composure and class to be a president. He was visibly upset with Tony Tan during the TOC forum, and Goh Chok Tong's former Principal Private Secretary actually raised his voice and pointed his finger at Tony Tan. Also during his CNA debate, Tan Jee Say stumbled during his opening statement. Right from the start he dropped the ball, although to be fair, chastised by public opinion, he was not so easily angered by then compared to the TOC forum outburst.

Tan Jee Say boasted his illustrious private sector employment. However, his employment history was questioned and Tan Jee Say later clarified that he was not involved in the demise of Peregrine or AIB Govett. This explanation was just like he was not involved in the Marxist Conspiracy although he was the top aide to Goh Chok Tong, a DPM in 1987. Certainly the former civil servant who struck out on his own was scrutinised and there might have been deliberate falsehood against him as part of the campaigning. However, Tan Jee Say was oddly quiet about the allegations that he was managed out of Standard Chartered and that he was shunned by the banking industry since 2006.

The Only Tan

In contrast, Tan Kin Lian is more amicable and less confrontational. He smiles often, is more casual in his appearance and reasoning compared to his competition. He wore batik during the TOC forum, is often seen in his casual high-five tee to emphasis his people-oriented branding. He is more of the people's president rather than an opposition's president. He stressed during his campaigning that while it is not within his constitutional powers, he would suggest a state pension fund and an added HDB grant for NSmen i.e. he knows his limits and does not go into esoteric debates like disbanding Temasek or debunking the Marxist Conspiracy. He goes for the heartland issues right away. More down-to-earth, more to the heartbeat of Singaporeans uncertain of their lot in life under the PAP government.

He is more accommodating and although his feel of socio-political moods is not there as seen from the TOC forum, this is compensated by his eagerness to help. He seemed more grassroot in his style and that would be a plus. Nobody should forget that he stood up and spoke up during the Lehman crisis at Hong Lim Park for those who were burnt. It is only one incident, one instance, his critics might voice. Indisputable allegation, but it was his big intervention in being the voice. Where was Tan Jee Say or for that matter, Tony Tan or Tan Cheng Bock, then? That demonstrated that he was concerned about people's money being safe and not risked away.

Furthermore, Tan Kin Lian helmed NTUC Income for 30 years. Tan Jee Say is a job hopper in comparison, perhaps unfairly presented if we were in a non-election period but fair in an election, someone who is not sure of what he wants. The stereotypical government scholar who cannot survive outside of his cushy fast-tracked government sector as critics like to gossip about. During Tan Kin Lian's leadership of Income, the NTUC leader grew Income to the large cooperative it is today, like or loath his leadership style. While the president does not have the mandate to do with the reserves as he pleased, his track record of prudence in Income is assuring and he views the reserves as both insurance and investment. Not something for the opposition to bargain with the executive and legislative.

Come 27 August, nothing as changed and I'm still doing a high-five for one particular Tan.

Presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian said he encountered two low points in his race to Istana, and both of them involved fellow candidate Tan Jee Say.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr Tan said the first low point was when Mr Tan Jee Say applied for a certificate of eligibility to become a candidate in the presidential election.

This allegedly took place after he invited Mr Tan Jee Say to be part of his think tank.

The second low point was when Mr Tan Jee Say received his certificate of eligibility.

Mr Tan Kin Lian said one of the criteria to qualify for the certificate is that the individual has to head a company with at least $100 million in paid-up capital, and he says Mr Tan Jee Say did not qualify in this area.

Mr Tan Kin Lian also shared two high points in his campaign.

The first was when he found out that many people are supporting him in the election.

Another high point was when his strategic team came up with the message for his campaign, which is to be the voice of the people, and the five values of positive attitude, public service, courage, fairness and honesty.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Election Dilemma and the President Idol

In the recent general election, the majority of us did not vote for an MP. The GRC system meant that most of us actually chose between teams of MPs offered by the PAP and opposition parties.

The dilemma was that in some cases, to cast a vote for someone we wanted as an MP, we inevitably also had to support someone we would prefer not to see in Parliament. On the other hand, this could also drag his/her team down.

With the official nomination of the 4 Tans as presidential candidates, voters face a different dilemma at our upcoming presidential election.

Say you are firmly of the view that the president should be not be a former PAP MP or Minister, and would be happy to have either Tan Kin Lian or Tan Jee Say as president. You believe that a slight majority of Singaporeans share your view, and that the ideal outcome would be that either one of them wins the election.

But who would you vote for? As with the Prisoners’ Dilemma, you might want to take a stab at guessing how your like-minded citizens might vote. If the votes are split down the middle, it is unlikely that either candidate will win.

In a curious case of divine impartiality, the same applies to those on the pro-PAP camp.

Someone has suggested having two rounds of elections, the second being between the top two candidates in the first. While the proposal has its merits, it is clearly not going to happen on 27 August 2011.

To “neutralise” the huge difference in country audience sizes, SMS voters in the Asian Idol competition had to name two countries; it has been argued that Singapore’s Hadi Mirza won the title of Asian Idol not because he was the best singer, but because he was the “safe choice”.

It is not a close parallel, since voters for the Asian Idol were required to select two choices. Nonetheless, the “safe choice” theory suggests that the candidate who wins may not be the most-loved, but simply the least despised.

But this is not an ideal outcome for Asian Idol, and even less so for a presidential election.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tan Kin Lian for President

The inaugural contested presidential election is here. This Wednesday would be a milestone in Singapore's history. For too long the presidents have been selected by the PAP, even after the elected presidency was enacted in 1991. This time, still smarting from the humiliation in the GE months ago and the spirit of soul-searching still in the PAP psyche, the PAP turned away for once and let the Presidential Elections Committee do its job. Consequently, there are four individuals who would stand for elections this Wednesday. All Tans, all hoping to be president, all have their flaws, all have their strengths.

The Room for Independents

I've always thought that there is ample space for independents in politics. Not only because of the romantic appeal of the underdog especially in a PAP-dominated Singapore, but also because independents don't have the baggage of party politics and history trailing them. Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Jee Say and Tony Tan have all offficially left their respective parties but around their necks, I still see the faint signs that say - PAP, SDP and PAP respectively. That Tan trio can never truly distance themselves from their political roots. Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock would still be loyal to some of their former PAP comrades at least, if not to the PAP itself. And the same would be so for Tan Jee Say, who flew the SDP flag merely months ago too at the GE. If a former PAP member is elected as the president after 27 August, he would draw disdain from segments of the public. Similarly for the former SDP member as there would be those in the crowd who would prefer a PAP man over someone from the SDP camp.

Community, Ceremony and Constitution First, not Party Prejudices

The president in Singapore performs constitutional, ceremonial and community roles and should he be beholden to any political party, he cannot carry out those roles to the best of his abilities. Party prejudices would cloud the president's office and undermine the office in the eyes of the public. Furthermore, Singapore is a parliamentary system and the president's office should not be backdoor for opposition parties to sneak into parliament.

With a president who is not aligned with any party, the opportunities of gridlock brought about by party politics is significantly reduced. The PAP-dominated parliament would be more open to listen to an independent president, partly as a public relations demonstration of their growing openness to win the voters over in time for their next election. Furthermore, in the eyes of the PAP, it is best that their henchman becomes president. But in the end with the expected anti-PAP resentment still fresh after the GE, preferable that an independent they can reason with who sits at the Istana rather than a card-carrying member of the opposition intent on blocking anything because of party agenda.

The Path Ahead for an Apolitical Presidency

Hence, to apoliticise the presidency, and in the spirit of the elected presidents from Ong Teng Cheong to SR Nathan, the choice is clear to voters like me who want to see the assertion of the political independence of the president's office. From Ong Teng Cheong who was a minister and NTUC leader, to SR Natan who was a senior civil servant, the natural evolution in the apoliticisation of the elected president would leave us with Tan Kin Lian, someone from a cooperative. He is qualified with regards to his Income stewardship and has remained independent through the GE and has no political ambitions in that sense or else he would have joined the opposition. His critics spread that he is a former PAP member and thus tainted. However, he left the PAP in the early 1980s and that is a long time ago for him to retain party loyalties.

When Tan Kin Lian officially commits himself to the presidential race in a few days, he would get my vote.