Sunday, August 7, 2011

A President worthy of Respect

Many of you would have been following the Presidential race with keen interest.  I was glancing at Tan Cheng Bok’s blog “Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s response to “Law Minister debunks notions on what president can say.””  Dr Tan Cheng Bock took umbrage at the remarks “Whether the president actually wields influence obviously depends on who the president is.  If he is someone who commands little or no respect of the Prime Minister, then of course influence will be limited.”  Dr Tan Cheng Bock questions whether the Minister is actually saying that the people’s choice for President matters little unless he is endorsed by the government.  Then how is the President to be above politics?

Some aspirants to the office of President of the Republic of Singapore must not delude themselves into thinking that at the end of the day, the elected President can say “I do not need to have a conversation with the Prime Minister.  After all, I carry the mandate of the people.  He should listen to what I have to say.”  This is an incorrect expectation.  The PM is obviously the head of the Government, and leads the executive. 

As to whether there will be meaningful conversations, like all other constitutional positions, it must be up to the elected office bearers to find a meaningful interface with each other.  The Constitution is obviously silent on this subject, and indeed, there are not many laws that will define the precise levels of exchange and interface between two office holders.  Constitution convention and day-to-day practice will evolve, and the level of human interaction, beyond official exchanges will be defined with the effluxion of time. 
This would be the case no matter who becomes the President.  Surely it must the case that the elected must still find a meaningful interface with those with whom they have to interact officially.  After all, respect will pave the way for the exertion of significant influence.   

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