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Commentary: A few traits of a superior applicant for President


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SINGAPORE: With the writ of election issued and President Tony Tan using his leave last week, Singaporeans are ready to see if an election will be held come Sep 23, and sooner or later, for a applicant to assume the place of work of Singapore’s eighth President. 

By now, the three major candidates who have submitted their apps and declared their intention to operate for the place of work are regarded to most Singaporeans.

A self-produced businessman whose Next Prospect enterprise turned the initial Malay-owned agency to be mentioned on the Singapore Trade in 1997, sixty seven-year-outdated Mr Marican Salleh has highlighted that he’s gone through the school of tough knocks, which helped him become additional compassionate. 

Chairman of marine sector enterprise Bourbon Offshore Asia Farid Khan is a self-professed patriot, who states he’s carried out a great deal of local community perform and has normally desired to do some thing for Singapore.

Mr Farid also states that his regional exposure and knowledge in dealing with people throughout the location puts him in superior stead for the top rated work.

Completing the opportunity slate, former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob has unveiled her marketing campaign team and slogan, “Do Great, Do Together”.

Mdm Halimah has also highlighted her knowledge on the global stage, for occasion, acquiring served on various committees of the Geneva-primarily based Global Labour Organisation. 

From still left: Presidential hopefuls Mr Salleh Marican, Mdm Halimah Yacob and Mr Farid Khan. (Photographs: Ferus Bakar, Olivia Siong) 


Given that the approaching presidential election has been reserved for Malay candidates, most conversations up right up until now have focused on the backgrounds of the three candidates, which includes their heritage and conformity to common markers of ethnicity.

But we need to glimpse at other criteria in examining what can make a superior President.

For a person, the make any difference of regardless of whether potential candidates belong to the local community for which the election has been reserved is in the arms of the Group Committee. Candidates would have submitted a Group declaration kind and utilized for a Certificate of Eligibility to exhibit that he or she satisfies the Committee’s assessment, prior to publishing their apps to operate for the Presidency to the Elections Division.

Fairly than getting mired in concerns of ethnicity, Singaporeans need to keep focused on the crucial selection that they will require to make, and determine for on their own how to go about earning that conclusion, if additional than a person man or woman qualifies for the posture and the country goes to the polls. 


The President has three vital roles: Initially, a obligation set out in the Singapore Structure that empowers him or her to act as an crucial check out and harmony to the Federal government, to defend past reserves, appoint vital general public services place of work holders, and check out the use of Federal government powers to continue to detain people under the Inner Safety Act, among the a handful of other specified obligations. 

The President also has two further more roles. In the President’s local community purpose, there is a great deal that the President can do to enable considerably less fortuitous Singaporeans and champion social results in.

President S R Nathan had set up the President’s Challenge in 2000, which has due to the fact raised additional than S$one hundred million in funds and enhanced consciousness for various charitable organisations.

President S R Nathan set up the President’s Challenge in 2000 to increase funds for the social sector. (Image: Right now)

In the President’s 3rd purpose, in working out his ceremonial perform, the President’s engagements with other heads of states and vital policymakers from other countries permits him or her to exert an influential and solid diplomatic purpose to further more Singapore’s global standing. Having beforehand served as Deputy Primary Minister, President Tony Tan took normally to this.

It is striking that all three candidates have produced the situation that they’re the ideal man or woman to conduct the President’s local community purpose, and two out of three have highlighted their global knowledge, in getting the ideal man or woman to conduct the President’s ceremonial purpose.

But are these two roles the criteria by which we need to decide the candidates? What can make these two roles additional crucial that the obligations that the Structure alone sets out for our President?

In my impression, it is far additional crucial to assess candidates’ talents to conduct the President’s constitutional obligations, and foundation our assessment of the man or woman who would sooner or later consider up the Presidency on regardless of whether he or she is able of discharging the Office’s constitutional obligations and powers.

To do so, I think that the President has to have three crucial traits.


Initially, the President requires to have a clear and analytical head. This will enable him or her to make sophisticated conclusions pertaining to the use of Singapore’s past reserves.

The President acts as a 2nd vital to Singapore’s past reserves, which are reserves that have been gathered in prior phrases of Federal government. This means that any drawdown necessitates the President’s consent this permits the President to act as a check out against attract-downs that are not in the nation’s pursuits.

As section of this purpose of safeguarding Singapore’s past reserves, the President also has to give assent to a host of Parliament Expenses that might offer for any borrowing of cash, or issuance of ensures and loans by the Federal government that might require drawing on past reserves.

Although several say that the President’s work is simply not to object to proposals to attract down past reserves, and the proposals are crafted by experienced, experienced economists from the Federal government of the working day anyway, are these conclusions really so uncomplicated or effortless?  

In working out this obligation, the President’s purpose in safeguarding the reserves involves far additional than simply determining when or regardless of whether to mobilise the reserves.

MPs increase as President Tony Tan enters at the Opening of the thirteenth Parliament of Singapore on Jan 15, 2016. (File photo: Right now)

He or she must have a complete appreciation of the scale and complexity of the conclusions requested of the President this frequently features the fiscal hazards of drawing down these reserves.

On a micro degree, the President must have a solid grasp of the various courses of belongings that make up Singapore’s past reserves, as very well as the various monetary devices that can be utilised by the Federal government. These include things like financial belongings, land-holdings and monetary devices this kind of as shares, equities and derivatives.

On a macro degree, the President must have foresight in comprehending the huge financial forces that might effect Singapore and in judging if problems are possible to transform. He or she must also be in a position to assess and see if he or she agrees that the proposed use of reserves is the ideal way to reach the intended plan aim and if the accompanying hazards are acceptable and acceptable.

The President also has the final responsibility in making certain that any use of past reserves is prudent, with arduous checks and balances set in in area to minimise losses.

In shorter, the President requires to perform the twin roles of financial analyst and monetary custodian.

A situation in place, the Federal government made a decision in the course of the 2009 world-wide monetary disaster to attract from Singapore’s past reserves to fund unique techniques aimed at counteracting the impacts of the disaster.

Collectively regarded as the Resilience Deal, the techniques provided, among the some others, initiatives to enable companies maintain onto careers for workers this kind of as the Jobs Credit score Scheme and worker retraining this kind of as the Capabilities Programme for Upgrading and Resilience, and a Distinctive Possibility-Sharing Initiative aimed at stimulating bank lending.

President S R Nathan’s permission was sought to fund the Resilience Deal from past reserves in 2009 in the wake of the world-wide monetary disaster. (Image: Right now)

This was a sophisticated bundle of initiatives, for which the Federal government sought then-President S R Nathan’s acceptance. More than simply injecting liquid belongings into the overall economy, the Resilience Deal associated the targeted use of precise monetary equipment and belongings to promote the overall economy. These include things like the use of various courses of belongings as collateral or backing for bank deposits and lending functions.

The S$4 billion that was sooner or later drawn for the Resilience Deal from past reserves was subsequently returned in 2011, when Singapore recovered from the disaster. 

In fact, the concerns and responses the President has to be glad with are billion-dollar kinds. Aside from granting his acceptance for the attract-down, then-President S R Nathan also accredited a S$150 billion assure on all bank deposits in Singapore earlier in 2008, backed by past reserves.

Aside from funding a fiscal stimulus in the course of an financial disaster, Singapore’s past reserves have also been applied to fund land-relevant projects, this kind of as land reclamation, the generation of underground areas like the Jurong Rock Cavern, and land acquisition projects like the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme.

Nonetheless, this kind of occasions do not constitute the drawing down of past reserves. Fairly, they require a conversion of past reserves, from monetary belongings to land-holdings. In other words, the land that is obtained or established through the use of monetary belongings continue to make up Singapore’s past reserves.

Land-relevant projects like Jurong Rock Cavern can be funded by past reserves. (Image: JTC)

As these illustrations exhibit, taking care of Singapore’s past reserves are not simply a make any difference of on the lookout in excess of a pot of cash. Fairly, they comprise a sophisticated combine of belongings, equally liquid and fixed.

Safeguarding Singapore’s past reserves consequently necessitates the President to have a solid comprehending of Singapore’s financial situation, and regardless of whether these merit the use of past reserves, and the kind or type of belongings that are to be mobilised in the drawing down of these reserves.


Aside from safeguarding the country’s past reserves, the President also guarantees the integrity of Singapore’s general public services – as the President has the ability to veto specified vital general public sector appointments this kind of as the Legal professional-Standard, the Main of Defence Power and the Commissioner of Police, among the some others.

Equivalent to the President’s custodial purpose in excess of Singapore’s past reserves, this proper to veto was established to pre-empt the doable appointment of unsuitable candidates to crucial general public sector roles. Though we have nevertheless to see this veto ability exercised, it nevertheless plays an crucial purpose in making certain the integrity of these vital general public services appointments. 

In my head, a 2nd excellent the President consequently requires to have is the capacity to read people and procedures, significantly in the context of the general public services.

The President requires to have a audio comprehending of Singapore’s general public services, as very well as the various channels and mechanisms through which guidelines are formulated and executed. This will offer him or her with a affordable foundation upon which to assess the suitability of vital general public sector appointments.

The President has veto ability in excess of vital general public sector appointments, which includes the Main of Defence Power. (Image: Howard Law)


A 3rd excellent the President requires to have is humility – this means recognising when he or she requires to attract on others’ knowledge and wells of knowledge, in buy to come to the ideal conclusion, cost-free from political leanings or thoughts.

In this regard, the 8-member Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA) plays a important purpose, in performing as counsel to the President. The President is necessary to seek advice from the CPA when working out his or her discretionary powers in excess of the use of Singapore reserves or the appointment and removal of vital general public services officers.

It is important that the President works carefully with the CPA to arrive at the ideal conclusion for Singapore, not minimum to avoid gridlock on concerns the place a fast conclusion is needed. In addition, the CPA guarantees a diversity of knowledge and thoughts. As the outdated declaring goes, two heads are greater than a person and nine are possible superior to a person.

Exactly where the President’s conclusion to workout his or her constitutional discretionary powers contradict the CPA’s recommendations, the final conclusion can be produced through a parliamentary resolution supported by at minimum two thirds of all elected Associates of Parliament.

Taken with each other, the President, Parliament and CPA depict interlocking elements in the governance of Singapore’s past reserves and figuring out crucial general public services appointments. The two involve a consensus to be achieved by the Federal government of the working day, the President, the CPA and in fantastic cases, Parliament.

Just about every element consequently acts as a check out on the some others, and the President plays a essential purpose in this construction of governing administration in making certain that conclusions produced on these two counts are in Singapore’s important pursuits.

Wanting Ahead TO SINGAPORE’S Following PRESIDENT

It is clear that Singapore’s elected President plays an crucial constitutional purpose.

Given the importance of this purpose in guarding Singapore’s nationwide pursuits and reputation, it is important that Singapore’s following President possesses an analytical head, a close comprehending of general public sector procedures and staff, as very well as deep humility. 

As we hold out with bated breath for an eventual applicant to consider up the place of work, it is crucial to retain these crucial roles and responsibilities of the elected President in head. 

With or without having a contest, the worst matter to listen to people say when talking about the purpose of the President is without having a question: “President do what? Help charities and host dinners proper?”

Woo Jun Jie is assistant professor in the Community Plan and World wide Affairs Programme, Nanyang Technological College, the place he teaches Singapore politics and foreign plan. 

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