This week was full of news about presidents. Of course, the biggest news was about the election of the new President of the USA. The other piece of news was about the changes to Singapore’s Elected Presidency (EP). Judging by the comments online, one would be forgiven to think that Singaporeans are more concerned about the President of USA than we are about our own president.
Why would that be? We offer three suggestions.
Not as if we can do anything about changes in EP
The PAP has a super majority, and all PAP MPs have to vote along party lines, what are the chances that the any proposal put up by the government to Parliament won’t get passed? None (and indeed the changes have been passed in Parliament).
That’s right. The moment the matter is being discussed in Parliament, no matter what anybody says in Parliament, or whatever anyone says outside of Parliament, do you think the government will make any further changes? I can’t remember a single instance of a debate in Parliament actually changing something the government proposed.
And all the things said in Parliament about the EP have been extensively discussed and reported earlier. The government has had numerous dialogue sessions before this debate in Parliament. Each of those dialogue sessions has been extensively covered by the mainstream media. It’s no wonder that Singaporeans don’t quite care about what’s being said in Parliament about the EP.
Ok. That explains why Singaporeans don’t care about the debate in Parliament on the EP. But why do Singaporeans care about the US Presidency then?
Singaporeans think Singapore’s President doesn’t have any real power
Unlike Singapore’s President, the President of the United States of America is extremely powerful. He leads the world’s largest economy. His decision about climate change can tip the balance between environmental salvation or ruin. He’s commander in chief. He holds the codes to launch USA’s nuclear arsenal. Yes. I think it’s fair to say that the President of the United States of America is perhaps the most powerful man on Earth.
What about Singapore’s President? What real powers does he have? Not much. In his speech, PM Lee made it abundantly clear that the President cannot push for policies. The President’s role is reactive. He can block the government from drawing on past reserves and veto the government’s appointments of key officers in the public service. Oh. And Singapore’s President has some powers of oversight on the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). That’s it. Not exactly the sexiest of powers…
To most of us, our President is just someone turns up at National Day Parade, smiles, and waves to the crowd. It’s not surprising to understand why Singaporeans aren’t quite excited or care about the changes to our own Presidency.
Better not talk too much, otherwise get slam by Government…
The last reason why I think Singaporeans don’t seem interested in the EP is because there is some concern that appearing too interested may get you into trouble. I’m sure there are some people who disagree quite strongly with the changes. Particularly those regarding reserving elections for minority races. But given that race is a sensitive issue, people may be more reserved in voicing their dissent, lest they be deemed to have fallen foul of the law.
And people may get the idea that the government has a habit of coming down hard on those who disagree with them. Where do they get such ideas from? Perhaps watching the exchange between PAP MPs and WP MPs in parliament. Yes, WP should have mooted their idea of a Senate before the debate in Parliament. Yes, WP should have fleshed out their idea more. So yes, perhaps WP was just ‘asking for it’.
But the discussion in Parliament does set the tone for general discourse in Singapore. It’s inevitable for people to see what goes on in Parliament and think, “Ah… better not speak up. Otherwise end up like WP like that, kena slam left right centre. Everything just let Gahmen win can liao”.
I hope I am wrong. I hope Singaporeans do care about changes to the EP. I hope that Singaporeans aren’t apathetic about politics and public issues. I hope that Singaporeans will participate vigorously in public discourse. Because it’s part of nation building. Because we are all in this together. Because this is our nation, our home.
[Featured image via TodayOnline]