We all want a President who can be a unifying symbol for all Singaporeans. But we disagree about the best means to achieve that end.
In Parliament on 6 Feb 2017, DPM Teo suggested that in November 2016, I had supported measures to depoliticise Presidential Elections (PEs). In fact all the Workers’ Party MPs and NCMPs, including myself, had argued in Parliament for not having an elected President at all and reverting to appointed Presidents.
DPM Teo alluded to my comments about a PAP MP who suggested political safeguards in PE campaigns. In fact, I said that it was to her credit that she attempted to address the politicisation risk issue, not that I agree with her proposed solution. I had argued earlier that day that Presidential elections inevitably become politicised.
DPM Teo went on to say that because I am “not shy” to speak in debate and since I had not challenged his characterisation of what I said, that means I agree with it. It does not. Nowhere did I say that I supported an elected President with politicisation safeguards. I did not raise my hand a second time to challenge his characterisation of what I said because my colleagues and I had already made our views emphatically clear during the three days of debate – we support an appointed Presidency, not an elected one, safeguards or no.
I reiterated my views in Parliament on 6 Feb 2017. For those who are interested, please scroll down below to read the excerpts, watch the clips and judge for yourself.
What I had said in Parliament on 9 November 2016 referring to a PAP MP’s speech was:-
“My second question pertains to a question we have repeated a few times – what are the strategies that the Government has to mitigate the risks of politicising the unifying office of the Presidency? No doubt, that politicisation may not have fully materialised for the past EPs that we have, but there is good reason to believe in future Presidential elections, if let us say there are 10 candidates, and let us say the winner gets 5% of the votes or let us say the campaign ends up becoming bitterly partisan, the Office of the President could be politicised. I have not heard any strategy from any Member of the PAP on how this can be managed. I think Ms Rahayu Mahzam came closest to that. To her credit, she talked about tightening up the rules for partisanship during the Presidential election campaign. So, what would be the Government’s strategy to mitigate that? That is my second question.”
This was DPM Teo’s reply to me at the time:
“Turning to the risk of politicisation and the possible tightening of rules for the Presidential Elections. The risk of politicisation is there. I have addressed it explicitly just now in my answer. But I think what Mr Leon Perera suggests, and what the Commission suggests also, is to look at rules and the way that the Presidential Elections are conducted. I think there is merit and I agree with Mr Leon Perera there.”
In my earlier speech on the Bill delivered that very same day, I argued for reverting to appointed Presidents. Here is an extract from that speech:-
“Mdm Speaker, the Presidency, and I concur with Members who have talked about the importance of the Presidency, is the one precious unifying symbol of our national unity, above party politics. As a National Serviceman, I pledged my allegiance, as did many Members here, to the President and the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, proudly. When we elect this office, inevitably, it becomes a proxy General Election…The Constitutional Commission, the Menon Commission recognised this. They had the courage to do so, and suggested that we cast our eyes back to the time when Presidents were not elected.”
Here is the video clip of that speech. It makes clear that I am not calling for rule changes to Presidential Elections but for a reversion to appointed Presidents.
On 8 November 2016, in responding to PAP MP and MOS Dr Janil Puthucheary, I said:
“Firstly, and most importantly, we have argued that subjecting the office of the Presidency to an election runs the risk that that election will inevitably become a proxy General Election, will become politicised. As a result of that process, the Elected President that emerges from there with a mandate that is less than 50% will be seen in a political light and will, therefore, have his or her ability to unify the entire country severely curtailed…Can the President be a unifying figure, after being subject to an election that is vulnerable to the tinge of partisanship? …Our proposal actually saves the Presidency from the risk of this kind of politicisation.”
Here is the video clip of my exchange with DPM Teo in Parliament on 6 Feb 2017:
Source: Leon Perera