Presidenti​al hopeful’s contradict​ions

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 28 Jul 2011 letter by Mr Eric Tin.

Mr Tin claims that Mr Tan Kin Lian is being self-contradictory when Mr Tan argued on the one hand for the elected president to represent the views of the people and actively engage in public debate while accepting on the other hand that the elected president can only perform duties and have powers set out in the constitution.

There is nothing self-contradictory between Mr Tan’s arguments and his acceptance of the elected president’s duties and powers. The former is what Mr Tan is pushing for the elected president to strive for, over and beyond the latter which are the elected president’s assigned duties and responsibilities. It’s like Mr Tin being an ordinary citizen with no assigned roles and responsibilities beyond being a law abiding citizen doesn’t prevent him from speaking out on issues that matter to him. It would be an insult and a joke to our country if our president claims that he cannot express his opinions and cannot engage in debate because the constitution doesn’t allow him to. The constitution doesn’t prevent free and responsible speech to anyone including the elected president. Imagine President Nathan telling all the dignitaries who visit Singapore that he cannot speak on behalf of the people and cannot engage in public debate because those are not his assigned roles and responsibilities. What respect would anyone have for this kind of president?

Which statement in the constitution explicitly prohibits the elected president from publicly expressing his views? If there is such a statement, then it is fundamentally unconstitutional which the people of Singapore must be made aware of. Any self-respecting Singaporean would agree that free but responsible speech is a right guaranteed by the constitution, elected president or otherwise.

Mr Tin claims that taking a position either for or against the government means taking a partisan stand on an issue. It is Mr Tin who is politicising the issue of free and responsible speech by the elected president. No individual, elected president or otherwise, should be denied the right to take a stand on any issue, either for or against it. Taking a stand means taking a stand, not taking a partisan stand. By taking the same stand as that of the government, do we therefore say that Mr Tin is taking a PAP stand on this issue? Certainly, not. We must respect that Mr Tin is merely taking a stand which he feels is right, regardless of which party happens to take the same stand.

Not being elected to play the legislative role of MPs doesn’t mean that the elected president cannot have opinions and cannot debate on issues. It is like Mr Tin who is also not elected as an MP but yet can have his opinions and can debate on issues. Doesn’t it puzzle Mr Tin that the elected president has less rights than himself?

The elected president is expected to exercise powers within legal limits. Those legal limits do not preclude his legal rights as a citizen for free and responsible speech.

The elected president doesn’t undermine his dignity by engaging in public discussions just as Mr Tin doesn’t undermine his dignity by engaging in public discussions. One doesn’t undermine one’s dignity by expressing one’s views publicly per say. One undermines one’s dignity by expressing undignified views publicly or privately.

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