No, Halimah, You Are Mistaken


I just saw this article online on one of the MSM sites. In it, the former speaker of parliament, Mdm Halimah Yacob is being interviewed as a potential candidate for this year’s presidential elections.

Let me comment on the article, paragraph by paragraph.

That Singapore will soon have a Malay president after 47 years is, for presidential candidate Halimah Yacob, an affirmation of two core values Singaporeans hold dear: multiracialism and meritocracy.

Singaporeans hold dear four core values. Multiracialism, meritocracy, transparency and fair play. Each of these key values fail this time around.

“Reserving” the election for one particular aspect “race” does not qualify as being multiracial. It is also not fair play.

Meritocracy can only be seen if all the candidates are assessed equally. Halimah “qualifies” because the presidential elections act says that by virtue of she being a speaker of parliament, automatically qualifying her. The two others who’ve indicated interest in running have a significantly higher bar to meet – the fiduciary experience. The role of the elected president is to be a person who has some fiduciary experience because the president is supposed to be the “second key” to the reserves. From all reckoning, the two other candidates have run businesses including recovering from failure and would, therefore, be more savvy financially. I would dearly want to know how, by being a speaker of parliament, that specific characteristic is met and how Halimah would be able to do the needed fiduciary duties? The law waives that requirement solely because of the role played. That is not meritocracy.

“It shows we don’t only talk about multiracialism, but we talk about it in the context of meritocracy or opportunities for everyone, and we actually practise it,” she told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday.

Elaborating, she said it demonstrates Singaporeans can “accept anyone of any colour, any creed, any religion, at any position in our society, so long as they feel that the person can contribute”.

I have to assume that what is quoted above is verbatim. If that is the case, why do we need the “Group Representation Constituency” system? We all know that the GRC was a PAP gerrymandering scheme to make it difficult for the opposition to succeed under the pretext of “minority” representation. Halimah herself is in parliament because she was brought in under the same gerrymandered system.

Her resignation from her posts as Speaker of Parliament, MP and member of the People’s Action Party on Monday to contest the upcoming election has seen views opposed to changes to the presidency resurface, with some questioning the commitment to meritocracy.

Madam Halimah firmly refutes the view that the election, which will be reserved for Malay candidates, entails a trade-off between multiracialism and meritocracy.

It, in fact, ensures both founding ideals are preserved – giving fair access for all races to be represented at one time or other, in the highest office of the land, while requiring that each and every candidate meets the same stipulated criteria.

If she truly believes what she is saying above to be true, I look forward to DPM Tharman Shamugaratnam as the 4th Prime Minister. He exceeds in capability, charisma and character (and international stature) compared to the current incumbent, the other DPM and all the so-called “4th generation” cookie cutter (aka paper general), nondescript PM-wannabes combined.

“All candidates have to qualify,” she said, noting the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency last year had made clear its stand on this issue.

“If we weaken eligibility criteria for those taking part in a reserved election, yes, then we are compromising meritocracy for representation. We are not – the same criteria apply to everybody,” she stressed.

I assume she said that with a straight face. The eligibility criteria was weakened by putting up the nonsense of “race” where there was none to begin with.

The commission had proposed reserving an election for candidates from a race if it had not been represented in the presidency for five terms. It also updated eligibility criteria for private sector candidates, who must have led a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity. The changes were passed by Parliament last November.

Of course it was passed by the rubber stamp parliament. No one expected anything else. The commission did propose some alternatives such as going back to the old way where parliament appoints someone to be the president, but the PAP bulldozed their view and so we have this sad state of affairs.

Madam Halimah, 62, has been described by observers as the front runner. They note she is the only aspirant who automatically qualifies to stand, having held the post of Parliament Speaker since 2013.

Who are these anonymous “observers”? PAP cadres? I don’t think anyone would say she is a front runner. I concede, she could possibly be a front runner in a one runner race.

Two other candidates who have indicated their interest to run, Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan, 62, and Second Chance Properties chief executive Salleh Marican, 67, do not automatically meet the financial threshold.

They have to convince the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) they have the experience and ability to effectively carry out the functions of the office if elected.

And, bingo, there you go. The other two potential candidates apparently don’t meet the fiduciary threshold (actually, how does this MSM reporter know?) and they have to do a song and a dance to be eligible while Halimah gets the golden ticket, no questions asked. And I have a gut feeling that Farid and Salleh might be disqualified for that critical fiduciary requirement for which Halimah is exempt. How convenient.

Asked about the prospect of a contested election in the interview at NTUC Centre, Madam Halimah said she will leave it to the PEC to decide, adding: “We always go into a contest preparing for a contest.”

A fair contest is always welcome. In this case, it is still not clear that the contest will be fair. The contest has been rigged, first by putting the “race” statement, and second by having different fiduciary criteria for qualification.

As for talk of a reserved election being akin to affirmative action, she said the comparison is wrong because affirmative action means “you don’t qualify, but you go in”.

Affirmative action is usually never about “you don’t qualify, but you go in” in all cases. It varies from country to country how it is to be interpreted. In Singapore, the PAP-driven GRC system is an affirmative action model, using the excuse that “Singaporeans are not race blind yet”. The PAP feels that in order to get minorities into parliament, we need to affirmative action via the GRC system.

While some have questioned the seemingly higher bar for private sector candidates, she said the approach that automatically qualifies public sector candidates “has been in place since 1991”.

“It is an open, transparent system,” she added.

The lower fiduciary requirement for public officials have indeed been on the books, but that does not make it right. I think Halimah is very wrong to equate “has been in place since 1991” with the need to be open and transparent. The public sector qualifications were placed there to make it easy for PAP ministers to run for president (which has indeed been the case with Ong Teng Cheong and Tony Tan – autoqualification because they were ministers).

Asked if her track record of 40 years in public service – 33 of them in the labour movement – would be a key plank of her campaign, Madam Halimah laughed and said more details will be revealed soon.

“Yes, having been in public service for a significant period, that has exposed me to the policymaking process, that has stood me in good stead, to understand how the Government functions.

“So that has been extremely useful, relevant, to what I am seeking to do,” she added.

There is a misconception here – there is no “key plank” of her campaign. The elected president is a figure head (as head of state) and a custodian of the reserves. There is nothing else the president can do from a public policy perspective. The president’s office is constrained by the parliament. Presidential candidates can say all that they want, but they would not be in a position to execute it because of their inherent lack of authority. I hope this is made clear and evident to all.

I have a lot of respect for her. I would vote for her if she was standing in an election on her own merit and proven competency. She does not need the crutches that are being placed in her candidacy. As it stands now, I cannot vote for her.

The Dr Tan Cheng Bock Factor

We have yet an unresolved issue. Dr Tan Cheng Bock appeal against this travesty of the “racial” restriction is still pending in the verdict. I fail to see why there has to be a delay in this, it is a simple issue to decide. We cannot have the decision after the elections. We need that to be made public immediately.

I would like to think that we are not living in a bogus democracy. I really do.