TL;DR – The PAP must now work harder to make up for the political cost.
There are many reasons why people are upset. Do we really need a reserved election? Mdm Halimah wasn’t really elected, so can she really represent the people? Was this all to block Dr Tan Cheng Bock from being president?
So many reasons to be upset. And it’s not just the people who are hardcore supporters opposition who are unhappy. Even someone like Xiaxue, who has, on numerous occasions, proclaimed that she’s a staunch PAP supporter, has spoken out against the whole process:
It’s understandable why people are upset. The whole process is… terrible. That’s actually an understatement. But, there might yet be some good from this abysmal situation.
Here are three reasons why we think this incident is actually good for Singapore:
1. Greater understanding of the President’s role
The last Presidential Election was hotly contested. People would have probably gotten to understand a little bit more about the role of the President. That said, there are still people who can’t tell KFC’s Colonel Sanders from our former President.
But now, with a more heated discussion about how the President is (s)elected, it’s likelier that more people would have found out what a President does and why it’s important to try and have the right person as President. Basically the President has three roles: Constitutional, Ceremonial and Community (3Cs).
And while most people are upset with the process of how Mdm Halimah became president, and the process that changed that process, most people agree that she would make a good President.
2. Discussion about meritocracy and representation
Much has been said about why we should be proud that Mdm Halimah is now President. They say that we ought to celebrate that a Malay woman with a humble background can rise to be President in a predominantly Chinese country.
Of course, not everyone is sold on that idea. They say that it only happened because of affirmative action. Would Mdm Halimah have been elected as President in a straight contest against a Chinese candidate (e.g. Dr Tan Cheng Bock)?
We don’t know. Only time will tell if the ruling party’s really wanting to do the right thing.
But this entire episode has gotten people discussing whether Singapore’s meritocratic system can allow someone from a minority race can get ahead in life. Perhaps if a certain Indian gentleman becomes Prime Minister, then more people will be convinced that Singapore’s meritocratic system is indeed race-blind.
3. The PAP now has to work much harder
Minister Chan Chun Sing had pointed out that the PAP would have to pay a political price over the recent changes to the Elected Presidency, and the debate surrounding it, including the hiatus-triggered model to ensure minority representation. He said:
“If we are all good politicians, we won’t and we shouldn’t do it. No good politician would sacrifice his political capital for a problem that may arise in future generations. Most good politicians in the world would try to preserve their political capital for themselves to manage their current problems.”
It’s good that the PAP has acknowledged that this whole incident has cost them political capital. They have about three years to the next General Election. If they don’t want a massacre at the next General Election, they had better work hard to make up on ground lost because of this incident.
To do that is straightforward, but not easy.
Singaporeans are pragmatic people. We care about bread and butter issues. If, by the next General Election the trains work properly, economy grows well, we have better jobs, get higher pay relative to inflation, houses get bigger and cheaper, we will forget this incident and will still vote PAP. If not, then this will be one of many issues that will push us to vote against the PAP.
Much more important work ahead
President Halimah is aware of the various negative voices during the run-up to Nomination Day when she was declared President-Elect. She addressed the sea of supporters that day,
“I know that some have some doubts of the reserved election. And I want to tell you as your president-elect: I promise to work with everyone. I am president for everyone, and I intend to serve all without hesitation or doubt.”
“I also want to tell you that although this is an reserved election, I am not a reserved president. I’m a president for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion or creed. I represent everyone. My duty remains only to Singapore and Singaporeans. My duty remains only to you. Although there is no election, my commitment to serve you remains the same. There is no diminution even one bit of my desire to serve you.”
It’s not just President Halimah who has to work hard at winning hearts of the naysayers. We, as Singaporeans, also have to come together and look forward. We have lots ahead to look forward to and to do together.
And of course, the ruling party has even more work to do.
Our economy is improving, there’s a slight uptick in our labour market, but we aren’t out of the woods yet. Trains are still breaking down.
So, given that PAP knows that they have paid a heavy political price over this incident, we should be able to expect that the PAP will work even harder to improve our livelihoods so that we will vote for them again in the next General Election. To me, that’s the best outcome from this Presidential Election episode.