There are two directly relevant, but hitherto unmentioned, reasons why the incumbent PAP government has to very seriously consider changing the sort of President to install at the Istana.
The first elephant in the room is the obvious and very real possible outcome of an EP election where the incumbent president, Dr Tony Tan, could find himself displaced and without a job. The last razor-thin ‘winning’ margin of Dr Tony Tan versus his nearest rival, another Dr Tan – Dr Tan Cheng Bok – said it all.
The brush with Dr Tan Cheng Bok was simply far too close to call. Too close for comfort for the megalomaniac PAP government.
It does not help that since taking office, the incumbent has conspicuously done little to endear himself to the citizens of Singapore (and I am not referring to some populist wayang). (We were told he was not a ‘people’ person by a contemporary of his from an IHL at the time of the last PE.)
Furthermore, he has lost one or two opportunities/occasions so far to ‘acquit’ himself as the ‘people’s president’, but he did not, or has chosen not to. His track record is likely to work against him (and the PAP) come next PE.
The other elephant is ironically to a large extent of the PAP government’s own making. I am referring to the almost 70% mandate given to the PAP at GE2015 by Singaporean voters. I would think that the PAP itself knows deep down inside that the apparently huge pro-PAP swing was the result of a ‘kiasu’ group of ‘swing’ voters voting with their ‘pocketbooks’ in mind rather than any real admiration for the job the government has done post GE2011. The fierce ‘onslaught’ of the opposition parties during the GE2015 rallies had literally scared the wits out of the swing voters; what if overnight the PAP is replaced by new, unknown and untested members from the opposition? Than how? It was in self-preservation more than anything else that prompted the ‘swing’ to the PAP. Foremost in the swing voters’ mind would have been ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’. The post-GE2015 eerie disquiet and disbelief of the voters had been palpable.
It helped too that the government have ‘coincidentally’ been giving out a lot of goodies to the pioneers, for example, and bombarding the general population day and night with weeks of psywar: LKY’s images, nostalgia and related past/historical events calculated to invoke a mix of awe and sense of insecurity and fear-mongering through the retelling of riots in decades gone by, and sense of guilt and ingratitude if the people were to reject the PAP at GE2015 after all that the first generation of PAP leaders had done for Singaporeans. But, deep down inside, the current PAP leaders know too well that it had ‘won’ the swing votes by default, rather than by any particular earned or accrued merits.
However, now that the PAP is firmly returned to power, this same savvy and mercurial group of voters are very likely going to vote for an elected president who would truly live up to his sacred duty to safeguard the people’s money by constantly keeping an eye on any undue or surreptitious movement of funds from the national reserves by the PAP government of the day. If you like, a sort of ‘by-election’ effect that allows the voters free play to put someone else, other than a PAP lackey, in the Instana who would give real life, meaning and substance, the raison d’être, to the concept of an Elected President.
This is the gridlock and ‘lockdown’ of the people’s treasury that the PAP government is really, really very worried about – no more free access to the coffers as and when it wishes. A truly neutral and non-partisan occupant of the president’s office would see to that; he would be a task master who is going to ask hard and perhaps awkward questions about the reserves that the government is going to be hard put to provide cogent answers and replies to. Thus far, everything is within the PAP ‘extended’ family and outsiders are none the wiser, as ‘outsider’ Singaporeans know only too well. This old boys and comfortable pally arrangement of the PAP government could very well vapourised overnight and turned into a nightmare for the PAP government when a majority of Singaporeans put the RIGHT man in the Istana.
Therefore, for these two very credible reasons the LHL government simply CANNOT afford to leave to chance as to whom it would want ensconced in the Istana presidential suite, come the PE due next year. One way out would be for the qualifying pre-requisites to be jacked up ‘sky-high’ so that even the candidates, such as Dr Tan Cheng Bok, who had previously qualified for the last PE would no longer be able to stand. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your party affiliation) for most Singaporeans the Machiavellian genius of the PAP would already have it all figured out and ready to be trotted out at the chosen psychological moment.