In case you missed it, the Presidential Election will be held this September. Also, reminder: it will be reserved for Malay candidates. (Sorry, Tan Cheng Bock.)

The proposed changes to the Presidential Elections Act were passed on Monday, with only the WP MPs opposing the Bill. Oh, and Kok Heng Leun the arts NMP, too.

In a nutshell, the timeline has been adjusted to give candidates and the authorities more time, taking into consideration the new reserve elections format. As such, the Election will be in September so that campaigning activities do not clash with National Day festivities. See the nice graphic done by ST here.

The bulk of the remaining debate, helmed by Minister Chan Chun Sing, was about the new community committee that will review the declarations submitted by candidates on which ethnic community they belong to.

You can read the boring details about all the other changes here, or read on for the highlights

Fiery debate in da house

 

A parliamentary session in Taiwan

Usually, we’re not too excited about Parliament happenings because, frankly, there aren’t many good orators in our Parliament. (Except Janil.) Neither is there much drama like in the Taiwanese or South Korean parliaments.

But apparently, there was fiery debate in the House, with the usual barbs between WP and PAP about political motivation behind the proposed moves. Even DPM Teo had to step in at some point in what we thought was him trying to put Leon Perera in his place.

And then we have the infamous Madam President incident, where Minister Chan accidentally called Madam Speaker, ‘Madam President’, twice. To much laughter in the House.

ZB made this scintillating graphic

Whoops.

Probably a slip of the tongue by CCS, but as usual, the entire Singapore Internet reacted. Some got all antsy and said it is no laughing matter, while others said he is hinting at what is to come. The rest like us probably just marvelled at how, for once, Singaporeans are so interested in Parliamentary happenings.

Our take? He may not be our favourite MP (go, Janil!) but give the guy a break. He just ploughed through a 12-page speech that was as boring as it was a tongue-twister. If you thought ‘Community Committee’ was tough to say quickly, well he repeated it 18 TIMES in his speech.

CCS, if you’re reading this, you need a new speechwriter. We are volunteering.

About that Malay thing…

Potential contenders from the Malay community, according to CNA

Ah, the prickly issue of race. The issue of an election reserved for Malays was debated to death last November in Parliament. And on Monday, with the same questions coming up. For example, whether it is necessary, how inter-race marriages factor in, whether race is more about your identity in your community than what your NRIC says.

The intention of making sure that the Elected Presidency is a unifying symbol, one that is open and inclusive, is a good and commendable one.

The role of SG’s Elected President is a ceremonial one, and it falls into three main categories (nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing about pushing policies):

  1. Constitutional: Guardian over matters like the use of national reserves. Does not govern the country, as this falls to the PM and other Cabinet members
  2. Ceremonial: Represents SG at highest level and helps promote good ties between Singapore and other countries
  3. Community: Play unifying role by encouraging, articulating and representing values that unite Singaporeans as a nation.

Presidents of Singapore over the years

Does it matter to you whether the person fulfilling the three roles above is Malay, Chinese, Indian or Eurasian? Would you be happier that the President is the same race as you? Considering we are a Chinese majority nation, it didn’t seem like people were very unhappy the late SR Nathan – at least not based on the thousands who paid respects at his State Funeral.

(Actually, if we’re going to talk about the race factor, arguably, the PM’s race is much more important, with the major policy decisions and their downstream impact. But that is another debate altogether.)

Already the decision about the reserved election has sparked debate. Some support the move. For others, it is an insult to the Malay community ­– and rightly so. Do Singaporeans think that Malay candidates are unable to compete in an open election against non-Malay candidates? Are special laws to help them really needed? More crucially, in this day and age, is the race factor still a crucial one, especially for the ceremonial role played by the President?

Honestly, we don’t think so. But it is a done deal. Come September, for better or for worse, Singapore will have a Malay president.

Questions, questions, and more questions

With half a year to polling day, perhaps we should start thinking: who are the potential candidates, and of these, are there people whom we think ought to be elected into the highest office of the nation?

Speaker of Parliament, Madam Halimah Yacob

Certainly, Madam President Madam Halimah is going to be on the top of people’s minds, thanks to CCS. But what about other prominent members of the community, who may not have been spotlighted yet?

And how different will the future of Singapore look now that we are going to have a Malay president? The geopolitical landscape is changing, with China and its scare tactics and the madness that is Trump. Will Singapore’s future be drastically different than if we had a non-Malay president, even if the role is largely ceremonial? Does it even matter to the electorate? Or are today’s Singaporeans race-blind when it comes to the elected presidency?

These are questions that will probably take a long time to answer, if at all. Some answers may surprise us, while others we may not be able to accept. And some questions may even throw up even more questions that we cannot answer.

Either way, these are important questions that should be discussed – sooner rather than later, we might add – because how we come to an answer as individuals and as a nation will shape our beliefs about Singapore and how our society should grow in the generations to come.