Reserved presidential elections unique stabiliser in Singapore system: ESM Goh

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at the National Day dinner in his Marine Parade ward yesterday. In his speech, Mr Goh said the Government has introduced "Singapore-style innovations" to the Westminster parliamentary system over the years to st
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at the National Day dinner in his Marine Parade ward yesterday. In his speech, Mr Goh said the Government has introduced "Singapore-style innovations" to the Westminster parliamentary system over the years to stabilise "a free-wheeling democratic process".ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The change to the Constitution to set aside reserved presidential elections for minorities will help ensure that Singapore's multiracial society stays afloat, and is one of the unique stabilisers in the country's political system, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Speaking at a National Day dinner in his Marine Parade ward yesterday, he said the Government has introduced "Singapore-style innovations" to the Westminster parliamentary system over the years to stabilise "a free-wheeling democratic process".

Citing other such stabilisers, he said the elected presidency itself serves as a check against a populist and profligate government; that the system of Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs ensures there will always be opposition MPs; and that the Group Representation Constituency system guarantees a fair number of minority MPs in Parliament.

"If these stabilisers are not introduced to our political system, our democratic state risks being capsized when buffeted by internal differences and divisions, let alone external storms," he said.

The presidential election next month is reserved for Malay candidates, after changes to the Constitution to ensure multiracial representation in the highest office in the land.

Mr Goh said being able to keep politics resilient, bold, forward-looking and inclusive of all races and different political opinions is one key factor which will determine how Singapore fares as it deals with the challenges thrown up by a more turbulent world. Also important is having a robust leadership pipeline, and a cohesive and fair multiracial society, he added.

With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is 65 this year, saying he will step down by age 70, the fourth-generation of political leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team and identify their team captain, Mr Goh said, adding that Singaporeans will want to know what they stand for.

He urged them to build a stronger and more inclusive team by bringing in potential office holders from outside the Singapore Armed Forces and the public sector to avoid group-think.

 

He also encouraged highly competent Singaporeans outside the Government to "step up and serve".

Finally, Mr Goh said, meritocracy must remain a key pillar of society to guard against social inequity - a deep fault line in many countries.

Still, he cautioned that while meritocracy may help the brightest and most hardworking rise to the top at first, it may end up entrenching the successful later, and the Government must intervene to ensure that meritocracy serves its purpose.

He added that the Government has expended immense resources on this, while guarding against the downsides of a generous welfare state, and people should not develop an entitlement mentality.

Singapore's success so far is not due to inherent talent or smarts, said Mr Goh, but the result of common values, political stability, national cohesion and good governance as well as each generation working and sacrificing for the next.

Describing this as the "Singapore secret", he said the fourth generation of leaders "have their work cut out for them".

"They will have to build their own social compact with the people... They will have to bequeath a fair and multiracial society to the generation after them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 20, 2017, with the headline 'Reserved presidential elections unique stabiliser in S'pore system: ESM Goh'. Print Edition | Subscribe