Friday, August 26, 2011

Which Tan should be the next President?

When Dr Tony Tan announced his candidacy, I thought it was a forgone conclusion - he would win hands down. A former deputy Prime Minister with formidable experience in governmental issues from education to economy, from finance to diplomacy. But as the campaign gets under way and as the role of the Elected Presidency becomes more focused, the ground has shifted. Putting aside the special veto powers of the EP which will be called upon only occasionally, what does the president do in between those decision-points?  Which candidate's experience best equipped him to fulfil his normal day-to-day role as president ? And what is that role?

As has been said, the President is above partisan politics. He is the representative not of the ruling power but a symbol of the state and the state's constituents, which comprise ordinary citizens like you and me. He has a unifying role and his focus is on the people of Singapore. For that role, he needs to be primarily a people-person, a grassroot leader who is in touch with the struggles of ordinary Singaporeans. So which of the four candidates has the most suitable disposition for this role?

The President's role is more like a pastor than a corporate executive. An analogy will help here. I have a pastor-friend who formerly held a top management position in a corporate organization. He has many years of corporate experience in a senior position, plus he was suitably qualified with an MBA from a top-notch oversea university. He left his corporate job to enter seminary to be trained as a pastor. But once he was appointed to the role of a pastor, he realizes that his role has changed. All his corporate experience adds little (except for management of the church) to his primary role of shepherding the flock. In fact, the congregation evaluates his performance not on the basis of his corporate experience but his pastoral skills. His ego was deflated but he quickly recovered and continues to hone his pastoral skills.

So, among the four candidates, Dr Tony Tan has the most formidable experience in governmental matters: but he may find those qualifications largely irrelevant to his primary role of unifying and connecting with the ordinary rank-and-file Singaporeans. Dr Tony Tan has been telling Singaporeans to vote for him because his has experience in handling governmental matters and the economy. He is definitely the darling of the elites comprising the ruling party & the businessmen. But will he be the people's choice?

On the other end of the spectrum, Tan Jee Say comes across as anti-establishment and is clearly the opposition parties' man - he is openly endorsed by opposition figures. So, he is the darling of those who dislike the ruling party - the PAP. But will he be the people's choice?

Tan Kin Lian is neither the PAP nor the Opposition's choice. But is he the people's choice? He has the kind of qualities that makes a people's President. But he lacks the experience to deal with the PAP government.

That leaves Dr. Tan Cheng Bock. Of all four candidates, he is the most "pastoral". His focus has been and still is on ordinary Singaporeans' struggles. He connects with the people. He carries no air. He has not lived the privileged life of the ruling elite. People can identify with him easily. He has always spoken out when the good of the people is threatened by governmental policies. He has a track record of a long stream of ordinary folks whose lives have been touched by his care and concern. He also has sufficient experience in business and finance to handle the occasional times when his veto-power is called into play. But most important, he has the personal disposition and strength of character to connect and represent  the ordinary citizens.  He can truly be the people's President.

The voters that want an executive to be the President would likely vote for Tony Tan. The voters that want an opposition voice to be the President would go for Tan Jee Say. The voters that love the down-to-earth kind of President would vote for Tan Kin Lian. And the voters who want a president who understands their struggles and act on their behalf would vote for Tan Cheng Bock.

For me, I don't need a president to play the executive role (that's for the government), nor to be the opposition to the ruling elite (that is for the opposition MP's). I want the president to be like a pastor of the nation to unify Singaporeans as one people, one nation - regardless of race, language or religion. I think of all four candidates, Dr Tan Cheng Bock seem to be the best fit for the job. He will likely get my vote.

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