According to Jayakumar as reported in the ST on 10 June 2011, some would-be candidates had “implied that they thought the president was “a centre of power unto himself, distinct from the govt of the day”, and had “certain executive powers”….”
He pointed out that the president had only “discretionary, custodial power” in five areas:…Even in these five areas, the president had only blocking powers, and was not allowed to initiate decisions or policies, he said.
According to Shanmugam as reported in the ST on 11 June 2011, the president has “no role to advance his own policy agenda”, as policymaking and the running of govt are the preserve of the prime minister and the Cabinet. “ This is so for all policies, whether they concern security and defence, immigration and population, or housing and social safety nets,” he said.
According to Tony Tan as reported in the ST on 17 June 2011: He had decided to run because he believed Singapore’s next president may have to make significant decisions that affect the security and well-being of all Singaporeans amid a challenging global landscape.
There is every reason to doubt that it is genuinely Tony Tan’s own initiative to enter the EP race. He is again being pressed into service because the PAP feels it is in mortal danger, post-GE2011, of being further weakened if an EP in the mould of Ong Teng Cheong gets elected. Tied to this is the very likely likelihood that incumbent, Nathan, really wants to go.
With these words of his, Tony Tan gives the appearance of giving notice to the govt that he intends to initiate policies as well as to set his own agenda if he is elected, despite the explicit warning already issued by the ex- and current Law Ministers that these are OFF-LIMITS as far as the current ‘brief’ of the EP is concerned. According to the pair, the EP is not allowed to initiate decisions or policies as these are the ‘preserve’ of the PM and his cabinet.
If neither Jayakumar nor Shanmugam feels compelled to react to Tony Tan’s words in the next few days, a couple of things would be apparent to the public. Namely,
a. What they have claimed as forbidden or out-of-bounds areas for the EP, is not Gospel!
b. TT enjoys special privileges and treatment from the govt compared to the other EP aspirants. TT is therefore not as ‘independent’ as he wants to claim to be. But of course, we all already know he is the de facto choice, the poster boy for EP, of the PAP govt after George Yeo dropped out, realizing his own untenable position due to what he had said in the heat of the GE hustings. (GY painted himself into a corner with remarks like vowing to transform the party and the ” I am a free spirit” comment with regard to the EP.)
As for the reason behind TT saying those things? IMO, he has to do that in order to be able to compete with the other two potential candidates whose popularity and appeal is very much grounded in their campaign platforms of aspiring to be the people’s president.
However, we should be discerning enough to note that what distinguishes TT’s words from the other two candidates is that his words are really hollow, vague and non-committal, a fond technique of the govt, which sounds big even bombastic but in reality, hollow and empty. Witness: He said “the president may have to make significant decisions that affect the security and well-being of all Singaporeans amid a challenging global landscape.” If you ask me, these words, in themselves without elaboration, are hollow motherhood statements and very much missing the whole point! The whole point being we want a president that is in the mould of our late President Ong Teng Cheong and not a govt ‘yes-man’ which is what the incumbent is a prime example of.
TT’s statement of ‘intent’ is merely grand sounding rhetorics! In any case, he would be intruding into the “preserve of the PM and cabinet”, to quote Shanmugam!
As I have noted in an earlier post, there is also a conflict of interest if he becomes the EP. It is highly questionable and doubtful that he would be objective with respect to the GIC where he had left his mark as the dy chairman and executive director.
IMO, if TT really has the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart, he should walk away from this contest.