President – One for all, all for one?

The Presidential Election has not generated as much interest in the past as it seems to have done this year.

This comes in the backdrop of significant gains by some opposition candidates in the recent General Elections which, at the same time, mirrors disenchantment with government policies in certain areas such as housing.

The upshot of it was to garner a few active politicians into saying that they will be contesting the Presidential poll.

But of course, this peak in interest is in part due to a misconception on the role of the elected President.

The race for Singapore's largely ceremonial post of President was given a fillip by a constitutional amendment that required, in essence, Presidential approval for an elected government to draw on the accumulated financial reserves of Singapore whenever necessary.

And suddenly, some people – I reasonably suspect – was misled to think that the post is equivalent to an executive President.

Nothing can be farther from the truth: The President of Singapore does not have executive powers.

He merely ensures that accumulated financial reserves are not frittered away, and that men of integrity and ability are appointed to key public sector jobs.

Needless to say, he does not initiate policy changes or direct the functioning of the government – as opposed to how a President functions in countries with an executive Presidency.

If the majority of the Presidential candidates imagine that they will function in an executive role, then they too are mistaken.

That said, one must not imagine, on the contrary, that it would be safe to simply elect anyone who has served in public office in some form as President.

For although the President is one who is above the politics of the government, he must still be someone who can offer valuable advice to a government should it require.

Singapore is a country which has a unicameral legislature, as opposed to a single chamber Parliament. As such, it does not have an upper house of Parliament with state elders and specialists drawn from various fields who can at times offer valuable advice to a sometimes fledgling government.

Here, the President in Singapore will have to assume this role of an adviser, much like the monarchs in Britain,Thailand, Malaysia and the Presidents of other countries.

In short, he must be one who not only has served and made a mark for himself as an able administrator but also someone who has the combined wisdom of an adviser.

One must not forget also that the President is an Ambassador for the country who must be able to develop, in a positive sense, a country's relations with other countries.

He must be able to project a positive image of the country and dampen unnecessary tensions that are sometimes apt to arise in our relationships with other countries.

Singaporeans would do well to bear all the above in mind when they seek to elect the next President.

And last but not the least, the Elected President should be one to whom all Singaporeans can look up to and identify themselves with and one who represents all Singaporeans.

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