Wednesday, November 29

Singapore picks new president tomorrow


SINGAPORE: The city-state chooses a new president on Saturday in a contest viewed by many as an unofficial referendum on the four and a half decade grip on politics of the People’s Action Party (PAP) – months after the opposition made historic gains, Reuters reports.

Former deputy premier Tony Tan, tacitly endorsed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and seen as the favourite, faces three candidates also surnamed Tan. Two were once members of the PAP.

Tony has backing from business groups and was executive director of Singapore’s largest sovereign wealth fund GIC. But he has his detractors.

Boos erupted during his address when his nomination was formally accepted this month. Singapore’s socio-political websites are also abuzz with criticisms of him and the PAP.

The election is the first contested race since 1993 for a job which has generally focused on ceremonial duties. Like most top posts, the president is well paid with a salary estimated at more than S$4 million (RM9.9 million) – intended to do away with corruption, but a sore point with voters.

“Choosing the head of state is a profound enough decision as it is, but to many voters this is also a key opportunity to put the PAP government in its place,” Cherian George of Nanyang Technological University wrote on his blog.

“What the government sees as an over-politicisation of the presidential election is a symptom of Singaporeans’ frustrated desire for accountability and voice,” George said, adding there are few of the outlets for grievances normally found in a democratic society.

Polls are barred during campaigning, but many observers say Tony will win, albeit with less than 50% of the vote.
If one of the other three Tans wins, the new president may exercise his veto powers to delay the appointment of government positions and in bodies such as GIC and state investor Temasek.

Tan Jee Say, ex-regional managing director of investment firm AIB Govett (Asia), pledges greater scrutiny.
“I believe there is an over concentration of power with too few people holding too many portfolios within the government,” said Jee Say, who has opposition backing.

Medical doctor Tan Cheng Bock, though a former PAP MP, frequently clashed with ministers over policy.
Endorsed by some opposition figures, he is also supported by PAP activists who helped him win six parliamentary campaigns.

The last candidate, Tan Kin Lian, former CEO of insurance firm NTUC Income and an ex-PAP member, helped retail investors claim compensation from banks that sold derivatives linked to Lehman Brothers, putting him in conflict with authorities.