The Spirit of Neutrality

The President must be above politics. I don’t understand why some people can’t see that.

The President must not be pro-PAP. Neither should he be anti-PAP. He must be someone whom all political factions can respect and support.

There are some people advocating that the President do more to speak up for the people and engage the Govt. But that is precisely something the Constitution does not empower him to do.

Unlike criminal laws which specify what is forbidden, the Constitution specifies not only what cannot be done, but also what can be done. The President is granted powers only in specific areas: to safeguard past reserves, check corruption and ensure the integrity of the Civil Service.

Hence those who claim that the President is free to speak his mind because the Constitution does not forbid it are wrong, both in the letter and the spirit of the law.

The President can’t speak up against the Govt simply because the Constitution does not empower him to do so. That is a job for the Parliamentary Opposition, which is empowered to question the Govt, and has the powers to bring down the Govt if necessary by calling for a no-confidence motion.

Any President who speaks up against the Govt would be trampling on the role of Parliamentary Opposition. Not only that, he would also violate the spirit of the law, because the moment he makes any kind of political commentary, he will have failed in his duty to be above politics.

From our politicians we expect politicking, debate and acrimony– and sometimes defamation suits. From our President we expect integrity, dignity, wisdom, fairness and most of all, no politics.

If a President throws his hat into the ring, the Govt will almost certainly issue a rebuttal, and from then on the President will no longer be able to stay above politics.

There is a reason why neutral nations always abstain from voting at the UN, and they never speak up. That is the spirit and the price of neutrality.


About politicalwritings

Someone who sees beyond PAP and "opposition" in Singapore politics. To understand more please see the Top 10 link below.
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18 Responses to The Spirit of Neutrality

  1. Neutrality - Endorsing and Approval of a Presidential Candidate says:

    “The President must not be pro-PAP. Neither should he be anti-PAP. He must be someone whom all political factions can respect and support.”

    If that’s the case, then a candidate should probably not allow himself to be “endorsed” or “approved” by any political party.

    Is the USA President politically neutral?
    President Obama does not have to resign his Democratic Political Party membership to run for and be President of USA.

  2. Thanks for comments. It’s precisely because the candidates shld be neutral that I don’t support ex-pap politicians who resign just to run for President.

    However, you cannot compare our President with the US President. The US President is the equivalent of our Prime Minister, as he is the head of Govt. Thus he is definitely partisan, not neutral.

  3. Pingback: Daily SG: 17 Jun 2011 « The Singapore Daily

  4. Neutrality - Endorsing and Approval of a Presidential Candidate says:

    Dear Politicalwritings
    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I concede your point about the partisanship of the USA President.

    I share your views about ex-politicians who resign their political party membership today.
    To become born again political virgins-neutrals tomorrow.

    But the qualifying criteria to run for Presidency is so strict, I doubt if more than 200 Singaporeans qualify.
    Furthermore, these 200 Singaporeans would long ago have come under the radar screen of the “tea party club” in Singapore.
    And would have attended such tea parties. And probably signed up political party membership too.

    It’s a small and elite club in Singapore!

  5. DC says:

    “The President can’t speak up against the Govt simply because the Constitution does not empower him to do so.”

    Nonsense. The Constitution grants the freedom of speech to all Singaporeans. The President does not lose his freedom of speech simply because he has assumed the post of President. Unless there is express provision in the Constitution that the President is not free to speak his mind, but must simply parrot the Government’s position, then he DOES have the freedom to speak up.

    • Thanks for comments. I respectfully disagree.

      First, neutrality does not mean parroting the Govt. You reveal your bias by that statement.

      Neutrality means not to take any position at all.

      Second, once a person becomes President, he is no longer his own man, but he is bound by the duties and limits of his office. He can thus no longer act like an ordinary citizen, where it crosses the limits of his powers under the Constitution. He must act according to the powers conferred to him under the Constitution, and that power does not allow him to speak against the Govt.

      And it is also not right, in the spirit of the law, for a President to do something which is rightfully the role of an elected Parliamentary opposition.

      • DC says:

        I’m afraid you do not understand how the law works. I have already pointed out that the Constitution grants all citizens the freedom of speech. Therefore, unless this freedom of speech is expressly taken away by the Constitution, the President does retain his freedom to speak out for or against the Government.

        Simply alluding vaguely to “the duties and limits of [the President’s] office” will not do. You need to quote the specific provision in the Constitution which says that the President is not free to speak his mind. Which provision states that?

        Note that having to resign from political office does NOT equate to losing your right to speak your mind. You do not need to be a member of a political party to speak your mind. Indeed, it is absurd to suggest that only the elected Opposition can speak out against the Government. Are you saying that no one else can speak out against the Government? In that case, round up all the bloggers and coffee shop uncles and taxi drivers – they have all violated the law!

        Bottomline: It is all well and good if you are saying that your ideal President should remain neutral and never speak up for or against the Government. But to elevate this to a legal requirement is simply wrong.

      • Thank you, but I must respectfully disagree.

        There is no provision in the Constitution for the President to question the Govt, nor is there any reqmt for the Govt to respond to any questions from him, unless it touches on his key powers over the drawdown of reserves and key civil service appts.

        Therefore it is obvious that the President has no role to raise any issues with the Govt.

        Thus the conclusion is simple– the President does not have a right to speak up against the govt.

        Note that the Constitution binds the Office of the President, ie he cannot speak out against the govt as long as he is an office holder, ie the sitting President. The Constitution did not take away his rights to speak out, as a private citizen.

        However, the monent one assumes office, one is no longer a private citizen because the office stays with him 24×7 for five years. Hence he can no longer exercise his privileges to speak as he pleases, simply because he is now holding the office of the president.

        Hope that’s clear to you.

  6. DC says:

    Your reasoning is illogical. First, you say that there is no provision in the Constitution for the President to question the Government, which is correct. But from this you jump to the conclusion that the President is NOT allowed to speak up against the Government, which is incorrect.

    This is because the Constitution does not purport to exhaustively enumerate all the things that the President is allowed to do. All it does is grant anyone who assumes the presidency ADDITIONAL powers to those that he already has. Unless expressly stated, it does not take away any of the President’s pre-existing rights and freedoms.

    If we adopted your logic (that the President can only do something if it is explicitly authorised by the Constitution), then the President is not allowed to eat, shit or sleep, because the Constitution does not say he can! This is clearly absurd.

    The correct legal position is that the President is allowed to speak his mind, but his views hold no special legal weight (excluding those pertaining to areas specifically coming under his purview). That is obviously not the same as saying he cannot speak his mind. Moreover, while his views might have no legal weight, they still carry political and moral authority, since he was after all elected by the citizens.

    • Thanks. Sorry must respectfully disagree. Don’t think you grasp the ideas presented.

      The Constitution states what the office of the President can do. It does not state that he can speak up against the Govt. The President can only act according to his Constitution powers. Hence he is not empowered to speak against the Govt. End of my point.

      • DC says:

        You are merely repeating yourself without addressing any of my rebuttals – chief of which is that the Constitution does not purport to exhaustively lay down everything that the President can do. All it does is grant the President certain special powers; it does not remove any of the President’s pre-existing rights as a citizen.

        Like I said, if we applied your logic, then it must follow that the President cannot eat, shit, sleep, drive a car, go bungee jumping, attend church, etc, because NONE of these activities are expressly allowed by the Constitution. Is that really your position?

        However, you have obviously closed your mind and are not open to reason. As such, I shall not bother to post further on this issue. Discerning readers will be able to tell whether your position makes sense.

      • Sorry, cannot agree with you. Using silly examples such as bodily functions does not help make your point.

  7. bekko says:

    I agree fully with the Political Writing. The President needs to be neutral as he represents all Singaporean regardless of their political affiliation. Why do you need the president to get involved in the politic and what are the opposition political parties for then?
    The trouble with many Singaporean is that they want their cake and they want to eat it also.

  8. Loh says:

    Even a normal citizen has the right to speak up against the government and be critical of public policies. And the president cannot?

  9. sgcynic says:

    Seems like two camps: one, NUTS (no U-turn syndrome, uniquely Singapore) – no can do unless expressedly allowed; the other the opposite. Need constitutional lawyers to weigh in, which is why the men in white are pre-empting dissenting views.

  10. anon says:

    I see only group think here.
    The EP evolved from a CP.
    Any particular reason why this
    evolutionary process cannot continue?
    If we (people and govt) are genuine about
    improving life and system, this is as
    good a time as any to review the role
    of the president post watershed GE2011.

    For me, the EP’s role as presently
    ‘constituted’ can change with more
    involvement of the president in the running
    of the country. I don’t need a figure head
    whose powers and rights are dichotomous
    and illogical.

    A simple question/scenario would make
    clear what I mean. Supposing we have a
    situation where a rogue govt decides to
    help itself to the reserves, what
    do you think would happen? The president
    simply says ‘no’ you can’t have it and the
    crooked govt would meekly comply? Anybody
    who believe this must be a bl**dy fool!
    One foreseen result would be a crisis – even
    a constitutional crisis – as the govt wrestle
    with the president. What do you think the people
    who support the govt would be doing? What do you
    think the people who support the opposition parties
    would also be doing? Twiddle their thumbs, till the
    crisis blow over. Poppycock!

    • Thanks for comments. I’m not into groupthink. But this is not a post to debate the “evolution” of the Presidency.

      Personally I don’t think an Elected president is necessary at all. I’d rather retain him as a ceremonial role. If there is to be two centres of power, I’d rather create another House of Representatives than vest political power onto a single man.

      But that’s something to be discussed another time, another place.

      Notwithstanding the above, I don’t believe in the “rogue”/”profligate” govt crap the PAP wants us to believe. Safeguarding past reserves actually does very little to protect us anyway. If a govt is not allowed to draw on past reserves, it can very simply borrow, and run into deficit spending as is the case in US, Greece, Spain, etc. The President’s assent on a deficit budget is not needed as long as it doesn’t draw down on past reserves. But guess what? With deficit spending on a continued basis, interest rates will go up, tax rates will go up, currency will devalue and austerity programmes will eventually have to be put in place.

      The President can’t prevent all this because the govt didn’t touch the past reserves.

      In fact, one can say all this happened because the govt thought the President would not let them touch the past reserves!

      But eventually, to bail out the country, the President will have to authorise the drawdown of past reserves, or see foreign investor confidence fall, unemployment go up, tax rates go up, and possibly riots as austerity measures are introduced.

      See how ineffectual the President’s powers are?

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