Indian community leaders discuss elected presidency changes

Mr Nair (from left), Dr Balakrishnan and Dr Janil at the dialogue organised by the People's Association Indian activity executive committees council at the Grassroots Club.
Mr Nair (from left), Dr Balakrishnan and Dr Janil at the dialogue organised by the People's Association Indian activity executive committees council at the Grassroots Club.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Proposed changes to the elected presidency scheme are to ensure that Singaporeans will continue to have as much trust in the office as they do today, Indian community leaders were told yesterday.

They are preferable to making a belated attempt to fix the system, said Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State for Education as well as Communications and Information.

He was speaking at a two-hour dialogue on the National Day Rally speech given by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month.

The issues of the elected presidency and economic uncertainty dominated the session attended by about 270 people.

Does it really matter for Singapore to have a minority president from time to time, one participant asked.

Dr Janil said the benefits of ensuring a member of a minority race can attain the highest office of the land may not be apparent, given that Mr S R Nathan had been in office just one term ago.

But Singaporeans should not take for granted that the unity and harmony that exists here today will naturally extend into the future.

"If the next election, or the next, is like the one in 2011 where there were no minority candidates at all, how long will it be before the question asked is not what's the benefit to Singapore or to the Indian community? How long will it be before someone says: What's wrong with this place?" Dr Janil said.

"We must not give ourselves a sense of over-confidence that everything will be okay even if we just do nothing about it," he added, noting the confidence of unity, harmony, "working and seeing ourselves as one people" today.

Other questions that Dr Janil, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair fielded included what happens should someone like Mr Donald Trump get elected when the election is reserved for a particular race, and whether Singapore will one day see a woman president.

Singapore's position on the South China Sea issue and terrorism were raised as well.

Mr Giriesh Gopal Krishnan, 29, a sales director who asked the Trump question, said he felt unsettled that someone who puts self-interest first could get into office should the election be uncontested.

Speaking to reporters after the dialogue, Dr Balakrishnan said the proposals for minority representation were "the best of both worlds".

"If indeed we've reached the level where we're completely equal, the provisions will never be invoked.

"But if we are not there yet, the provisions will have some impact in giving that additional reassurance that the presidency as an institution will also be multiracial, in the same way that Parliament will always be multiracial," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Indian community leaders discuss elected presidency changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe