So we have a constitutional amendment debate on allowing the President to take on appointments in foreign and international organisations in his private capacity. PAP MPs and Nominated MPs spoke up in support of this amendment to benefit Singaporeans. The 8 Opposition members in the chamber rejected it with a flurry of puzzling concerns.
Now, is that something worth getting all worked up about? Or is the Opposition just stirring things up against Singapore’s national interest to prove a political point.
To think about this clearly, we have to ask — what exactly is the role of our President? Did we elect someone to show up at events and cut ribbons for six years? Of course not. As Head of State, the President is meant to unite Singaporeans and represent us on the world stage. In fact, President Tharman’s edge in this aspect over the other candidates underscored the 70.4% landslide victory in the election.
As Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong shared in Parliament, “From Singapore’s perspective, there is value to have the President represented on international bodies. It enables us to be plugged into global conversations, to understand and help shape the thinking that takes place.”
Unfortunately, not everyone sees it this way. The Opposition — very disappointingly — opportunistically allowed partisan politics to affect national interests.
What exactly is the Opposition opposing?
DPM Wong painstakingly assured the chamber that this amendment is in line with how we have always been upfront, transparent and principled in addressing any gaps in the laws. In setting clear boundaries on what the President (now and in the future) can do, we enable them to amplify our voice and value in a globalised world.
The Opposition cited confusion on the ground, resourcing and even distraction from serving Singaporeans as justifications to their rejection of the amendment. But as alluded to by one particular opposition member, this has probably got to do with just deliberately disagreeing with anything proposed by the PAP to make a political point about its super-majority status,
As DPM Wong rightly puts it, will this amendment ultimately reap benefits for Singapore and Singaporeans? Will having President Tharman representing us at esteemed organisations be a good or bad thing? Will Singapore’s voice be strengthened in the international stage? Will this add to our participation at influential forums? Will this ensure this little red dot continue to shine brightly in a dark and troubled world?
Again, let us not forget why Singaporeans voted overwhelmingly for President Tharman in the first place.
Was it not for his international standing that drew us to the conclusion that this is the best man to represent Singapore? We would argue that he is in fact doing his job when he represents us internationally, in his personal capacity or not.
It would be a shame to Singapore if we restrict the President to ceremonial duties because we are trapped by dogma, rejecting changes along party lines even when they are in the best interests of Singapore.