Walkover or not, 'president represents all Singaporeans': Janil Puthucheary

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing (from left), forum moderator Gillian Koh and Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary at an Institute of Policy Studies forum on the reserved presidential election.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing (from left), forum moderator Gillian Koh and Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary at an Institute of Policy Studies forum on the reserved presidential election.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Whether Singapore's next president is elected in a contest or a walkover, he or she must be a president for all Singaporeans, said Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary.

But Dr Janil said he did not have an answer to whether a contested or uncontested election was better, a question he was asked during an Institute of Policy Studies forum yesterday on the reserved presidential election.

Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, a former senior minister of state who was at the forum, noted that the reserved election was introduced to make all Singaporeans feel included.

But it had "opened a can of worms", and discussions during the forum showed there is "a lot of division among Malays, among non- Malays", said Mr Zainul.

To avoid such divisions, he asked, was it better to have a contest or not have a contest?

It was not lost on the forum's participants that the election, to be held on Sept 23, may be a walkover, as two of the three presidential hopefuls do not immediately meet the criteria to run for the highest office in the land.

 
 
  • Pre-empting a potential problem down the road

  • Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing on why the Government introduced the reserved election system: "No good politician will sacrifice his political capital for a problem that may arise in future generations. Most politicians will try to reserve their political capital for themselves to manage their current problems.

    We had a conversation with PM Lee. We asked: PM, do we need to do this now?

    We anticipated that it will be a hard journey to convince people and we will pay the political price, at least in the short term.

    His answer was simply this: Yes, we are likely to pay the political price. Yes, we may not have a problem here and now. But what if we have the problem 20, 30 years from now? Will the fourth, fifth, sixth generation have the luxury of time and space to put in place a system?

    He took it upon himself, as the political leader, to put in place a system to pre-empt potential issues from arising in the future. For the country. Not for himself, not for his political capital, but always thinking of the country first."

Former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob is the only one who will automatically get the nod.

"The nominees are there, the process is there, we will have to see what happens," said Dr Janil, who is in the Ministry of Com- munications and Information, as well as Education.

His fellow panel member, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, addressed a similar question on how to reconcile people's desire to vote with the possibility that the stricter standards now may see only one person qualifying.

The decision is for the Presidential Elections Committee to make, said Mr Chan.

But he argued that ensuring a contest should not come at the expense of relaxing the eligibility criteria for any single group.

"I can understand Singaporeans' aspirations to have a contest and more people contesting. But I don't think Singaporeans would like to have different rules for different races," said Mr Chan.

This would shift the balance too far in favour of multiracialism, without sufficient regard for meritocracy, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2017, with the headline 'Walkover or not, 'president represents all S'poreans''. Print Edition | Subscribe