The names and races of Singapore Presidents are as follow:
Presidents Elected Into Office By Parliament:
1959 – 1965:Yusof bin Ishak (Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Malay for “Head of State”)) -6 years
9 August 1965–23 November 1970: Yusof bin Ishak – 5 years – died whilst in office
2 January 1971–12 May 1981: Benjamin Henry Sheares – 10 years – died whilst in office
24 October 1981–28 March 1985: Devan Nair – 3+ years – prematurely discharged
2 September 1985–1 September 1993: Wee Kim Wee – 8 years
Presidents Elected Into Office By Popular Vote:
1 September 1993–31 August 1999: Ong Teng Cheong – 6 years
1 September 1999–31 August 2011: S. R. Nathan – 12 years (2 terms – both elected unopposed)
1 September 2011–: Tony Tan Keng Yam – 6 years (by September 2017)
To date we have one Head of State and seven Presidents. And of the seven office holders, 4 were from the MINORITY RACES, the remaining 3, Chinese, from the majority race. So, the minority races are well represented even now.
Despite this, all of a sudden there is this hyperbolic urgency to change the existing criteria because of an apparent government perception that the minority races should ‘once in a while’ be made president although the record has clearly shown that a minority race member has had no problem becoming president of Singapore all this time. The late Mr Nathan for instance, was president for two terms as our elected president.
Well, the problem appeared to be self-inflicted by the PAP government on itself – for apart from the usual ceremonial duties it also wants the president to be ‘qualified’ with the prescribed credentials to take on the sacred duty of guarding Singapore’s national reserves, to be the ‘second key’# needed to block a rogue government from helping itself to the accumulated wealth of the nation.
However, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive conditions, nor are they insurmountable obstacles for a member of the minority races to contest on an equal footing with the other candidates in an EPE in the light of former EP, the late Mr Nathan two terms presidency, for instance. He was a member of the minority races and he not only made president, he in fact served TWO terms and was even elected UNOPPOSED on both occasions.
There is also this very obvious elephant in the room, that is, it makes nonsense of the very stringent and extremely high bar to cross, for any member of the majority race, namely, the Chinese, to merely qualify for CONSIDERATION as an EP candidate – before further screening, whereas, effectively, for the REST of population, (aka the minority races) the government appeared willing and prepared to relegate and water it down, perhaps even bringing the bar as low as would be necessary to ACCOMMODATE the minority race candidates in this respect. It makes NO sense because imagine the scenario where an ethnic Chinese president (majority race) elected on the basis of his high credentials to do the job of safeguarding the nation’s reserves, handing over the job after 6 years in office, to a minority race president who may not be equal to this task by virtue of being accommodated by the government (who else?) for political reasons (what else?). Are Singaporeans expected to believe and accept that our national reserves would still be safe, in hands of the less than qualified minority race president? This begs the burning question of whether during the 6 years term of a minority president, who would actually be guarding the national reserves from an opportunistic government which could turn roguish after and because the president would now be virtually a lame duck president where such a crucial duty is concerned?
Personally, I would not credit this government with an ostensibly ‘noble’ objective of ensuring that Singapore’s minority races would not be inadvertently forgotten or sidelined because of the government’s own very apparent low expectation of them. By ‘accommodating’ them with such preferential treatment the government would be taking ‘affirmative’ action up yet another notch and thereby perpetuating the myth that members of the minorities cannot make it on their own steam; that they are in need of political ‘charity’ and patronage of the government at every turn in our multi-racial and meritocratic system. This is an insult to the very many successful Singaporeans from the minority races. Just look around.
On the other hand, there is the widely believed conspiracy theory doing the rounds in social media, coffee shop gossips, among relatives, friends and colleagues, the talk of the town really, that this elaborate latest gambit of the government is nothing more then a ‘racial’ red herring cast to camouflage an ulterior PAP self-serving motive. Do you not think that it would be counter-intuitive for the government to deliberately orchestrate and heighten racial consciousness and highlight differences among Singaporeans after all the decades of national education efforts? So, quite evidently much bigger stakes are at stake for the PAP government’s sudden hyperbole on changing the constitution once again in order to accommodate a minority race president ‘now and then’, even when they don’t have the essential credential. And really who could believe that the PAP is seriously worried about minority races of Singapore throwing a huge tantrum if they had little or no opportunity to take up residence at the Istana? Just the other day, in a recent Mediacorp broadcast, a Malay participant has categorically stated to acting minister Ong Ye Kung that such tokenism is unacceptable to him because it would reflect poorly on the minority races in the long run and be unfair to former presidents like Mr SR Nathan in the years to come. He would prefer an evolutionary process whereby a member of a minority race is elected because he meets the exacting criteria.
But, no, the timing of the CJ led commission suggests that the hidden agenda of this sudden clamouring for a minority race president is almost certainly a convenient excuse fabricated to engineer changes to the current eligibility criteria for the EPE due next year so as to prevent another Dr Tan, Dr Tan Cheng Bok, from ever contesting again and potentially becoming the next president of Singapore; this can certainly happen if the eligibility criteria remained unchanged given the whisker thin winning margin of the incumbent. The PAP government is therefore afraid. What the changes would be Singaporeans would know very soon as the CJ has already submitted his report to PM Lee recently.
PM Lee himself once mentioned that if something isn’t broken, it should be left alone. Plainly, the current criteria for the elected presidential candidacy is broken – as far as the PAP’s self-interest is concerned.
(# Btw, the relevant details of the steps and procedure on how this critical blocking function would actually operate on a day to day, or month to month, or even year to year basis, had NEVER BEEN MADE KNOWN BY THE GOVERNMENT. In a nut shell, like in the CPF, Singaporeans have never been given information, are kept in the dark, regarding the mechanism by which this blocking would achieve its intended purpose of denying a rogue government out to fritter away our national reserves and also whether in fact such a system is actually in place and/or functioning.)