The NATO President

ST reported today (6 Aug) that Law Minister Shanmugam stated quite clearly that the President cannot speak on political matters outside of his executive powers, except upon advice of the Cabinet.

This is the same position as mine, which caused consternation among some readers.

Whether Shanmugam and I are right can only be finally decided by a Supreme Court Tribunal. What is more important is why some people feel that the Elected President must “speak up for the people”.

Obviously, there is much unhappiness with the PAP. There is a feeling that the President should be the channel for that unhappiness to be heard. Some people even feel that he must “stand up” to the PAP so that he can show his independence.

The question is why do people want the President to be a conduit for their sentiments, rather than opposition MP’s.

My view is that while these sentiments are strong and legitimate, the position being advocated is ineffective and not legitimate, not to mention unconstitutional.

I acknowledge the people’s unhappiness with the PAP, and their desire to have the President speak for them. But even if the President could scold the Govt, what is the point of doing so?

First, the President cannot veto any Govt action not relating to his powers, so he would basically be nothing than a loudspeaker. Do we really need a NATO President?

Second, the Cabinet would undoubtedly scold the President for being out of line, not to mention giving line-by-line rebuttals of whatever he says. That could go on and on.

Third, if the President continues his tirade, the Cabinet would act to remove him through Parliament, by using its 81-6 majority. They will most likely win.

What is the point of all this?

I hope people can see that the right people to oppose the PAP are the opposition. If you are unhappy with PAP, please vote more opposition MP’s in. These are your representatives who can stand up to scold PAP ministers in Parliament, can vote against Bills you don’t want, and can kick out the Govt via a no-confidence motion if need be.

If you’re voting for a President to speak up for you to the PAP, please ask yourself why you’re not voting for an MP to do that for you– and more.

Instead of wasting your votes on a President who doesn’t have the Constitutional powers to change anything, please vote for the parties you want to represent you in Parliament.

If you do it right, and if the other parties play their cards right, we can have a coalition govt– without the PAP– in 2016.

I’d rather have that than a NATO President any day!

NATO is Singapore slang for “No Action, Talk Only”


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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9 Responses to The NATO President

  1. henry says:

    Although the constitution dictates and binds the office, the people’s persepctive is that the president lends some form of interactional justice. Where procedural justice is very much evident in all the discussion about parliamentary rules, elections etc, one feature that is constantly being set aside is: Listen to me, Listen to us, Listen to what I want.

    Yet, Politcal Writings and main stream media constantly refers and defers to procedures.

    The result is that the ground will lean more & more towards rebellion and ignore the procedures.
    Will it be logical? legal? or morally correct is up to the people. Sometimes, as history has shown, change is not always legal and peaceful.. sometimes violent change is a choice that is the only option…. since the people’s voice is ignored.

    Speak to my MP?.. One that I did not vote for? surely not!.. I’ll walk across to Hougang and voice my dissatisfaction. Both will not solve my “issues”.. ( neither will Politcal Writings, who will undoubtedly lamblast my inability of solving my own “issues” and suggest that I need to remain focus on the topic at hand….etc…) but I trust the Hougang fella more.

    The same goes for the Presidency. I am hoping for the office to sound out the people’s soul.
    Because the other channels are stuffed with ear wax. Futility aside,the next step is to rebel.

    • Let’s put it this way:

      No one forced PAP to propose an Elected President position. No opposition party forced PAP to create such a position. LKY did it all by himself.

      Do you think PAP created such a position so that it could conveniently be used against them?

      Do you think the PAP stupid?

      If not, then why do you expect the Elected President to be a position to challenge or criticise the Govt, when it is highly likely that those who created it clearly did not intend for it to be used for such a purpose?

      Willingly or not, I think those who call for the President to speak up against the Govt have to accept the reality– that the position does not have such a power by design.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I think a significant proportion of Singaporeans want their views to be represented. Thus, it does not matter how the PAP has designed the post of Elected President to be as people will try every possible way to achieve what they want to achieve. Even if the result does not favour them, they want to actualize themselves during the process. This is the essence of self-actualization. Human beings will keep trying to achieve their own goals, even if artificial barriers are being set up.

    In some sense, the coming presidential election will be a proxy of party competition. The tone has been set; political affiliation will be the theme. I think the reality is that most people do understand that the presidential election will not be spared from the aftermath of the General Election in May.

    Furthermore, I think the presidential election is nothing democratic although it contains the element of popular voting. This is because the presidential candidates are being pre-vetted by 3 people who the people has not given direct authority to represent them.

    Finally, I just want to re-emphasize my earlier point that the presidential contest will be a proxy of party competition and I think it will be a pretentious and futile attempt by the current government to influence the people not to think this way. In fact, if the people feel that the President of Singapore should have more room to speak up, then the Government would better do something to appease the electorate before shedding crocodile tears during the next General Election.

    • Thanks for insightful comments.

      I understand but I feel it is defeatist thinking to basically want to just elect someone to channel views to the “ruling” party.

      If the PAP does a lousy job, one should seek to replace them, rather than just sending someone to complain.

      It is sad to talk about electing a President who can reflect the views of the people, when one should be talking about effecting change in government.

      The mindset of accepting PAP as the “ruling” party, and that the only thing we can do is to give “feedback”, has to change.

  3. henry says:

    The PAP retained a good majority in the past elections.
    Each of us voted according to our beliefs, hopes and understandings. Its done.

    The presidential elections offers another opportunity to vote, once again based on our beliefs, hopes and understandings. Yet, it is not the same as the genral elections. But do people fully understand the difference? I think not.

    The office was created, engineered. The intent is clear and purposefull. But as in all inventions, ( even in nature ) unkwnown factors emerge. New perspectives, awareness drives the human spirit to react, behave, respond in ways that algebra cannot simmulate and predict. I believe this is what is happening now.

    Despite the constant reminders about procedures and rules, the “can and can not” of the office, the people will speak via the vote. The rulers are dumbfounded because they continue to apply the rule of law and procedural justice, missing the wood for the trees. ( in case they still dont get it : the vote is the signal… “hear me, listen!” not the office.)

    We do what we can, with what we have, and I appreciate the existence of Political Writings, to enable the sharing of views. Small steps help to build larger ones.
    The people will fail, of course. But the rulers and the custodians of the law will lose the moral right, and we will meet again at the next level of contest… 2016.

  4. TK says:

    Nowhere lies the answer which will acknowledge that a measure of independence in presidential interpretation is acceptable. Instead, Minister Shanmugam chose to do this narrowly, rather than a more flexible method. In the end,the key principle that concerns me as a voter is the means for the President’s interpretive authority – how the President can best contribute to the development of constitutional meaning – must vary with context. At a minimum, the shared and collaborative nature of the interpretive enterprise requires the President to explain publicly and with detailed reasoning any actions premised on constitutional views that conflict with those of Parliament or the “Council of Advisors”. To say that the President “must” listen to them is ridiculous. Are the Council of Advisors running for the PE here? If anything positive can be attributed to the present EP interpretive abuses, it is a heightened public awareness of the critical need for scrutiny of executive branch legal interpretations and interpretive practices.

    Lastly, I have no issues with all the duties laid out by Shanmugam. It’s clear where the EP vetoes powers are. I think the main contention for most people is the fact that ALL the discussion & communications must remain behind closed doors (in private with PM) unless authorized by Council & Cabinet. But Shanmugam forgets that the people who voted the MPs into Parliament (while guided by constitution too) have access to TV debate on issues. Thus they know if their elected MPs are doing a good representational job on behalf of the electorate. Unlike the EP, if grave matters concerning our Reserves etc are not privy to us how will we come to learn and discern if the President is indeed doing a great job? And how are you to vote or approve him for another term? I for once, have forgotten how Nathan get his 2nd term on an automatic contract renewal!

  5. Pingback: Daily SG: 8 Aug 2011 « The Singapore Daily

  6. Diggo says:


  7. JH says:

    NATO President? Seems like it’s more of the NATO populace!

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