12 Years With Mr. S R Nathan

President S R Nathan will officially end his term later this year – 12 long years since he was sworn in on 1 September 1999 and re-elected in an uncontested election in 2005. This also makes him Singapore's longest-serving president surpassing even Benjamin Sheares's term of 10 years. And as he steps down after serving such a long period, the question here would be: ‘what do you remember about President S R Nathan?’

Some of us would hesitate in response to that question, as we attempt to recall what his contributions to the nation. Some of us would mention his appearances in charity shows and events. "He was a pretty chill guy", was my friend's response popped the question.

So, I’m guessing that for most of us, particularly the politically apathetic ones, Mr. Nathan was just a face that you recognize on television and newspapers.

To me, the citizens' relationship with the president was one which involved some sort of faith. You hardly saw him or knew what he was doing. And despite that, you trust that he is doing his job so long as no major scandal happens.

It was only after the general elections that the limelight in politics slowly shifted to the presidential role, as we prepare to elect a new president for our nation. It was only then that the media started educating us on the role of the president, a role that many used to unclear of and many are still unsure of.

We learnt that the role of a president in Singapore is mainly ceremonial, and that unlike America, the executive power does not lie in the president but in the parliament and the prime minister. Despite this, the president is respected as the symbol of the country and our national unity.

President S R Nathan’s role, however, extends to far more than merely waving his hand in the air as he faces the citizens from his limousine during the National Day Parade each and every year.

The esteemed man has made several contributions to the nation behind the scenes and has been referred to by Professor and Ambassador-at-large, Dr Tommy Koh, as Singapore’s No. 1 diplomat.

To that end, one of the more significant decisions that Mr Nathan has made during his term was probably his approval for the use of past reserves to fund land reclamation projects and the land acquisition for the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).

Mr. Nathan’s gentle but effective approach, operating his constitutional powers away from the limelight, defines who he is as a president and a person. Being "chill" doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. Compared to Mr. Ong Teng Cheong's more aggressive stance, President Nathan’s presidency was a less rocky one and one regarded as a much-needed steadying force.

He possessed a modest and down-to-earth personality while, at the same time, proved to be a man of courage when he offered himself as a hostage during the Laju incident in 1974. A picture of Mr. Nathan that I would never forget is one that was shown to us in class when I was in primary school. I couldn’t remember what the class was all about, but I remembered it being a photograph of our president in a sarong, talking to reporters at the gate of this house.

This is how I would like to remember President Nathan: A warm and honorable man that worked quietly behind the scenes. As I turn 23 this year, I am proud to say that S R Nathan was my president during the days of my teenage years.

What are your thoughts of the man? Do share them!

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