A centre of political power with potential conflicts

Last Saturday's report ("Tan Cheng Bock making second bid to be president") quoted Dr Tan Cheng Bock as saying: "I cannot be beholden to any political party, I cannot be a proxy for any political party. I've got to be independent."

He was also reported to have said that he would speak up if he disagrees with the Government, whether on the use of the country's reserves or on matters of policy; that he would negotiate behind the scenes when he does not see eye to eye with the Government.

Whether or not Dr Tan has interpreted correctly the executive powers of the office of the president, the fact remains that the President has executive powers and, therefore, he constitutes a centre of political power.

The relationship between the President and the Government will, first and foremost, be reflected in the President's Address to Parliament.

How then are Singaporeans to judge if and when there is a conflict between the President and Government? Their assessment will have to include such considerations as the following:

The President ranks first in protocol above the Prime Minister; he is elected directly by the people; and he has a national mandate, unlike an MP, who has only a constituency-wide mandate.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: Do we want a political system which holds the prospect of conflict between the President and Government?

If we want a system of check and balance, we should look at the model of either Britain or Australia.

Lau Teik Soon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'A centre of political power with potential conflicts'. Print Edition | Subscribe