Can Dr Tony Tan Dethrone The People’s President?
Having explained the role of the President of Singapore, it is time to examine whether Dr Tony Tan’s term should be considered successful.
With the late-President Mr Ong Teng Cheong being used as a yardstick to measure what constitutes as a successful presidential term, Dr Tony Tan would find it hard to be thought of as highly as the 5th President of Singapore.
Dr Tan vs Mr Ong
Looking back at Dr Tan’s Presidential term, the incumbent President hardly put a foot wrong during his stint as president.
Dr Tan’s term has been particularly eventful, varying from the nation’s first riot in over 40 years (Little India Riots), to the passing of founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Though such events have punctuated Dr Tan’s term, one particular event stands out and could prove to be the decisive factor in why Singaporeans don’t feel Dr Tan was a great president.
Lee Family Saga
The Lee Family Saga is arguably the biggest elephant in the room in the last 6 years.
The saga gained international traction with foreign media reporting on the alleged abuse of power. The entire ordeal threatened Singapore’s international reputation as doubts were introduced over the integrity of the government.
With the world fixated on the banter between the Lee siblings, one man held the power to put a stop to it all. That man is the President of Singapore.
Why no action Mr President?
In the first article, we mentioned that one of the areas that the President could step in was the appointment of key figures in the public service.
As Singapore’s reputation was dragged through the mud, Dr Tan could have called for an inquiry into the appointment of the attorney-general Lucien Wong.
Mr Wong’s appointment was called into question by the Lee Siblings given his former capacity as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal lawyer.
Despite claims by the PM that the air has been cleared after a 2 day Parliamentary Debate on the saga, Lucien Wong’s position as Singapore’s Attorney-General was never properly addressed.
The fact that few ministers raised questions about the allegations did not help the case as well.
An inquiry into the appointment of Mr Wong would have proved useful for Singaporeans and international audiences, because it would show that measures were being put into place to dispel any allegations of abuse of power beyond reasonable doubt.
Without any action being taken by the only person who could make a difference, the Lee saga has continued with the AGC taking action against the Prime Minister’s nephew Li Shengwu.
Why is Mr Ong considered to be a successful President?
While Mr Ong Teng Cheong was also a former member of the People’s Action Party, he was unafraid to challenge his ex-colleagues and kept them in check when he was President.
As we mentioned in the first part, one of the roles of the president is to protect the country’s financial reserves.
Well, Mr Ong did exactly that by demanding access to information regarding the funds he was sworn in to protect.
However, Asiaweek reported that he encountered several roadblocks along the way as “those who had the information stalled over” its release.
He continued fighting for the transparency of financial reserves to be made public resulting in the government producing a list of the government’s immovable assets though it was incomplete and came “three years later”.
This proved to be an unpopular move amongst his peers in government. Mr Ong admitted that there was tension given that “they did not like what I said”.
The friction between Mr Ong and his former political comrades was telling when he was contemplating a second term in office. However, he shared that the cabinet had already met and decided “that if [Mr Ong] were to stand again, they would not support [him]”.
Mr Ong stood out amongst the other elected presidents for his unwavering need to put the interests of Singaporeans first as well as the need to be non-partisan.
This garnered the respect and support of Singaporeans who knew that he was truly a man who fought for their interests.
Average at best
Dr Tony Tan has fulfilled the diplomatic and ceremonial aspect of his job well as seen on his Facebook page. The head of state’s Facebook is updated almost daily, and catalogs the numerous events he has to attend.
Despite being scheduled to step down on 31 August, Dr Tony Tan has not slipped into retirement mode as he attended the Dover Park Hospice’s 25th Anniversary Ball on 28 Aug.
Dr Tony Tan’s the failure to step up will always shadow his other efforts.
Nonetheless, we would like to thank Dr Tan for serving as the President of Singapore.