President isn’t the opposition

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 19 Aug 2011 letter by Dr Bernard Ee Kuo-Wei. Dr Ee expresses concern for the blurring of the roles of the president and the parliamentary opposition. He is of the opinion that the responsibility for checking on the government lies with opposition MPs, not the president. He further opines that a president that champions opposition causes has lost objectivity and neutrality.

First, it is wrong to assume that the duty to check on the government lies with opposition MPs only. PAP MPs owe it to Singaporeans to check on the government too by disagreeing with the government when they feel rightly so. Unfortunately, PAP MPs often have to toe the party line and are powerless to check on the government when the party cracks its whip. It is idealistic to expect 6 opposition MPs to check the government by out-voting 81 PAP MPs. Given this situation, there is a need for a stronger voice outside of parliament to balance the unhealthy situation where 40% of Singaporeans who did not vote for the PAP are represented by 6 opposition MPs only.

During the Second World War, the total domination of Germany’s parliament by the Nazi party ruined the country utterly. History has shown that individuals like Sophie Scholl who spoke against the Nazis outside of parliament, turned out to be saying the right things for their country even though many at that time couldn’t care less or couldn’t understand. We must learn from history and recognise that individuals outside of parliament can bring important messages to our country. We must all do our part by taking a stand on issues concerning our country’s future and not leave them in the hands of one party. ‘We’ includes the president.

What are some opposition causes? Widening income gap, overcrowding, high cost of living, unequal sharing of economic benefits and so on. These are not just opposition causes. These are the people’s causes. How can a president that champions the people’s causes considered to be losing objectivity when the very objective of those in public office is to improve people’s lives? The president is elected by the people and should therefore stand with the people. He cannot remain silent or neutral when the people’s lives are being trampled upon.

The Queen’s non-interference in the affairs of the British government can mean that she concurs with what the British government has been doing. It doesn’t mean that the Queen has no choice but to quietly condone any wrong doings by the British government. Just as we don’t expect the Queen to silently condone wrong doing, neither should we expect our president to silently condone wrong doing.

It is wrong to say that political causes must be confined to the political realm. Political causes are bread and butter causes which are the concerns of all citizens, not just politicians. Politicians do not operate in a vacuum. They operate to fulfil the wishes of the people. Political causes must always relate back to the people’s wishes. If there is a breakdown in the feedback between the people’s wishes and political causes, there is a need to re-establish that feedback through alternative mechanisms. The elected president can be one such alternative.

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One Response to “President isn’t the opposition”

  1. Wen Wah Says:

    Well said. A President’s role is to some extent somewhat like the Thailand’s king who will intervene when the ruling government is unable to cope with the people’s complaints , problems, unhappiness and protests (although it is not allowed in Singapore).

    A President must engage in dialog with the PM of the ruling party if the ruling party have difficulty with the prople’s problems and grievances.The President will step in when the situation is getting worse. I believe this should be one of the Prsident’s role in such situation.

    Anyway, this article is interesti ng, pertinent to the point and worthy of attention.

    I wonder if I can have your permission to share this article on the role of the President isn’t the opposition with my fellow readers in Temasek Review Emeritus. I await your consent

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