Qualities an elected president should possess

I look forward to the recommendations of the Constitutional Commission on the elected presidency.

I note, however, that while the concern about the role of the president is focused on his custodial powers, the Government wants also to ensure "that minorities have a chance to be periodically elected to presidential office".

I would have thought that we have reached a stage in our development that allows us to move beyond racial representation, that lets us consider as a president an individual who sees himself or herself as Singaporean first, and who upholds the ideals of multiculturalism.

I want to see an elected president who has the ability to connect with the ground, who has an empathy for the needs of the man in the street, and who is a symbol of national unity.

Two past presidents who embodied these qualities were Mr Yusof Ishak and Mr Wee Kim Wee. They were both men of integrity and moral authority.

The insistence that a presidential candidate must have experience in overseeing the handling of millions of dollars means that the office of the president will become the exclusive domain of the rich elite. This worries me.

The argument is that this experience is needed if the elected president is to be able to safeguard Singapore's financial reserves. But isn't that what the Council of Presidential Advisers is for - to provide expert advice to the president on financial and other matters?

The president's position is one of great authority and dignity, but it is strictly constitutional.

The decisions are made by the government of the day. Ultimately, the president is only able to raise questions, offer suggestions and perhaps delay the process of decision-making. He is bound to act on the advice of the Prime Minister and his ministers.

At this time in our history, when our society has become fragmented and polarised, we need as president not someone who has managed hundreds of millions of dollars, but an individual who has the wisdom and moral authority to strengthen our commitment to our country as one people.

Constance Singam (Mrs)