Pick a peacemaker​, not a warrior

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 22 Aug 2011 letter by Mr Koh Ching Feng.

Mr Koh is concerned that a couple of presidential candidates have advocated different perspectives on the constitutional roles of the president. He feels that these candidates are confused about the president’s roles and suggests that they be disqualified.

It is Mr Koh who is mistaken instead. While the candidates have indeed advocated additional roles, they are not advocated as constitutional roles but roles that stem from the president’s personal sense of duty to the people. After all, our own prescribed roles in our employment contracts do not prevent us from going the extra mile to do things beyond what is required of us. Similarly, the constitutional roles of the president do not restrict him from going the extra mile to further causes beyond what the constitution calls for.

Simple acts like pledging to donate one’s salary should not be viewed as empty promises. After all, President Benjamin Sheares donated all his presidential salaries with no problems whatsoever. There is no reason why candidates cannot fulfil their pledge to donate their salaries like President Sheares did.

There was never a clause in the constitution that says that the people, including the president, cannot debate issues. While the people and the president cannot debate issues in parliament, there is no reason why they cannot do so outside the parliament. To deny anyone, including the president, the freedom to debate issues would be a fundamentally unconstitutional act itself.

MM Lee often says that politics is all about bread and butter issues. A politically active president would be one that actively demonstrates care and concern for the people’s bread and butter issues. Mr Koh should not equate the bringing up of people’s issues as an act of opposition. Issues like over-crowding, high cost of living, these are people’s issues, not opposition issues. It is sad that we need the opposition to champion people’s issues. Shouldn’t it be the government to champion people’s issues instead? If our government will not champion people’s issues, we have to rely on others like our president.

We do not need an amiable president who would for the sake of peace avoid raising issues concerning people’s lives. Neither should we view speaking up on people’s issues as an act of opposition or megalomania. Speaking up on people’s issues should be seen as an act of justice and courage.

It would be a laughing stock indeed if our president has to resort to whispering to another head of state to air views that differ from our prime minister’s. He should proudly state his views out loud like anyone else. He should not become the one and only president in the world that dares not speak up against his prime minister. That would be the ultimate laughing stock.

A president speaking up on people’s issues is political only in so far as politics concerns bread and butter issues. He is neither weakening nor strengthening the president’s office for he is doing so beyond the prescribed duties of the president’s office.

Our society will not be less divergent if we have a peaceful but acquiescent president. A peaceful but acquiescent president will not help resolve fundamental issues that are at the root of our divergence.

We don’t need a peacemaker if making peace means sacrificing our future and the future of our country. A president that speaks out for the people is not trying to be a warrior. He is merely doing what any conscionable person would – speak up against injustice.

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