President Tan will move in at the Istana
By next month Singaporean will see a new President Tan at the Istana. All four Tans, Tony Tan, Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Kin Lian, Tan Jee Say, are in the running after being issued the COE. They are found to be men of integrity, good character and reputation and have the prerequisites to carry out the duties of the President as provided in the constitution.
The granting of COEs to four candidates is another milestone in our political history. This is not so much as having four Tans running for the office but a sign of more opening up of the political structure. The fear of the PEC applying the criteria stringently to limit the number of candidates to those that the ruling party favours proved unfounded. It speaks well of both the govt and the PEC. No one can now point a finger at any of them for playing foul and the voters will have a good spread of candidates to choose from.
It is now up to the candidates to promote themselves to the people to make an informed choice of who they want. Each has his own merits and drawbacks and when come to casting the vote, it could be a tough choice for many and may the best man wins.
Having set the pace for more openness and more eligible candidates to contest the office of the EP, I hope this will be the last time that the restrictive criteria of the Act are allowed to stand and that it be amended to widen the pool of eligible candidates. Integrity, dignified, respectability are essential characteristics of a presidential candidate. However, the stringent criteria of being a top civil servant or CEO of a $100m organisation must go as they are too restrictive and elitist. In a way, the disqualification of the majority of the citizens to run for the presidency is unconstitutional as it is robs the right of every citizen to stand as a candidate for the highest office of the country.
The role of the EP and the criteria attached are incompatible and need a thorough review. There is an expectation that the presidential candidates have to be dignified, stately looking and with good stature. This could easily be overcome by a PR agency or some help from Mediacorp makeup artist.
The second part, man of good character, integrity and reputation is a harder act to follow. What it wants to deny are thieves, wife beaters, liars, cheats and people who are above politics, that is, no politicking, scheming and fixing other politicians. Would these automatically bar all politicians from becoming president? The most ideal candidate should be a secular priest that is acceptable to all. Unfortunately there is no such animal around.
The third part about a top notch permanent secretary or CEO of a large corporation is asking too much. If a C grader like George Bush Jr is qualified to be the executive President of the USA, why is there a need for such a highly qualified candidate who is more ceremonial plus a small custodial role? Think Nelson Mandela, would someone of his background be qualified?
A EP does not exist nor act alone. He is always advised by the Cabinet and a presidential advisory team. What is needed is a man with a reasonable education and good common sense and an ability to understand what is presented to him to put his rubber stamp on it.
It will be good to move away from the past stringent criteria that are not seen as objective and fair. Review the criteria and the eligibility and not rob the rights of every citizen from aspiring to the highest office of the country.