Let’s Play: Shanmugam’s Clarifications on the Elected Presidency

First, Shanmugam “clarifies” for us what the Constitution says about the role of Singapore’s Elected President. Next, he clarifies his clarification. And then he gives a final claim to close the issue. Best of all, he tells us, as reported by SingaporeScene, that “the Constitution [is] very clear on the matter.” Which seems to imply that he has been wasting him time on all the clarification while taxpayers are paying his salary and listening to him so earnestly. I feel betrayed.

But never mind. Shanmugam is not the only person entitled to making clarifications. Neither is he entitled to the final say. His promise (of sorts) to shut up regarding the matter is an open invitation for netizens to scrutinize his dead final words to life.

Amongst Shanmugam’s most interesting remarks are those regarding the Prime Minister’s respect for the President. At the Institute of Policy Studies forum, he says

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. (Source, emphasis Molly’s)

Shanmugam now tells us, correctly, that he has never said only a PAP-endorsed President will have the Prime Minister’s respect. But, still, it is implied in his remarks that:

1. It is possible for the Prime Minister to have no respect for the President.

2. The Prime Minister may or may not respect an Elected President voted in by the citizens of Singapore.

3. It is possible that the Prime Minister does not respect an Elected President who is deemed eligible by the Elections Department under ridiculously stringent criteria (an eligible candidate must not be less than 45 years old and must have not less than three years of experience as minister, chief justice, speaker, attorney general, chairman of the Public Service Commission or permanent secretary, chairman or chief justice, speaker, attorney general, chairman or chief executive officer of a Statutory Board or of a company with paid-up capital of at least $100 million). In other words, we may say that the Prime Minister’s respect for the President, according to Shanmugam, relies on more factors than experience and eligibility.

What other factors then determine if the Prime Minister respects the President given thathis qualifications, his experience and the fact that he is chosen by the people may result in possibly no respect from the Prime Minister? Can he blame people for thinking that one of these other factors is whether the President is PAP-endorsed or not, especially since he is still not bothering to specify what these factors are. Or, if he had initially made a mistake in phrasing at the IPS forum, he could simply say so. But he does not.

Instead, Shanmugam makes quite a different claim. According the the CNA report, “Mr Shanmugam said the office itself commands respect and whoever holds the office must be given the respect due.” This appears entirely different from what he had said unless we see that giving someone due respect is not the same as truly respecting someone from the heart. If he had phrased his words wrongly at the IPS forum, he should have told us that his phrasing has created misunderstandings and not to take him “out of context” (one of the favorite terms of the men in white these days).

Shanmugam’s added clarifications holds even less water:

The quality of the advice [given by the President to the Prime Minister] will depend on the person giving that advice and a President who is wise, knowledgeable and experienced will obviously be more influential than another who doesn’t have as much experience or as much wisdom.

If it is about the quality of advice, then it is about the quality of advice. It has nothing to do with whether the Prime Minister respects the President or not unless the Prime Minister is unable to discern how good a piece of advice is and allows his attitude towards the identity of the person advising him to cloud his judgement. If Shamugam is right, it does not bode well for Singaporeans to have such a Prime Minister. But to begin with, does Shanmugam actually think that the Elections Department will qualify a potential candidate who is not knowledgeable and experienced? Apparently, he does not think very highly of both the Prime Minister and the Elections Department.

So never mind. Let’s just hope that Shanmugam will really not comment on the issue further. But well, we know him. When he says that he does not wish to comment on the issue further does not mean that he will not comment on it further against his own wishes.

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9 Responses

  1. Another of men in white mis-speaks, but Straits Times to the rescue instance!!! Had it been Tan Kin Lian or Tan Jee Say mis-speaking, the Straits Times would have publicly thrashed them left, right and centre

  2. Singaporeans know what Mr Shanmugam is inferring here.
    Much like Dr Lim Wee Kiat’s dignity is attached to the size of salary, what is implicit here is that if the EP is not someone (who in the eyes of the PM) wise, experienced or knowledgeable, then despite being elected by the people and is the people’s choice, the PM may not respect him based on the constitutional power that PM/Cabinet has over EP.

    In other words, is up to PM’s ego to determine if he wishes to engage in a constructive relationship or not; is dependent on whether the PM feels this EP is all-wise, all-experienced or all-knowing, and worthy of his listening time and intellectual too.

    And you have to wonder how many an EP that is all wise, experienced (in reserves?) and knowledgeable across the board, the answer is only a handful “few good men”. The technical words for these few good men is called Dinosaurs. If the electorate have made it clear that they are recently very happy to retire these so called Dinosaurs/Mentors roles, it makes you wonder why they think we want to add another? No one governs the country for nostalgic reasons. The future and new challenges requires new and creative thinking. We need someone who can offer refreshing views, not the same group think and elitist advices like what Mr Shanmugam and his cohorts (including Mr Nathan) offered so far. They are just noise and bantering which explained how the moral conscience have been so seriously misguided by the very same group who frequently like to call them “populist”.

    I say let’s vote in a new independent President where the PM has to reach out and work on his “consensus” building skills starting immediately. This will make him put words where his mouth is.
    We have enough of their unrepentant heart and actions.

  3. As has always been the case with the MIW, they actually earn/deserve Singaporeans’ disrespect for them by the way they speak and conduct themselves. As for Shan, within the space of a few short months since he took office, he is already holding the record for having put his own feet into his own mouth.

    Not surprising his latest faux pas and it’s has got something to do perhaps with his court room training as well as the trademark PAP ‘NEW SAY SORRY’ contagion that is the curse of the PAP cabinet from the time of the father, holy goh and the moribund son.

  4. […] Election – Molitics: Let’s Play: Shanmugam’s Clarifications on the Elected Presidency – The Satay Club: SHANMUGAM AND HIS NOT-SO-VEILED THREATS – TOC: A critic turned supporter of […]

  5. Technically, any Tom, Dick, Harry (especially Harry), Tracy, Daisy and Harriet can be an MP, short of being an undischarged bankrupt. Even a fishmonger or other lesser mortals can be an elected MP. And among the MP, the Prime Minister is chosen. Hence, the requirements for the PM is almost non-existence and very minimal. Now, compared that to the stringent requirements for an Elected President.

    So, a minimally qualified PM has no respect for a maximally qualified President?

  6. I bet his mouth is big enuf to fit Ronald McDonalds dancing shoes. He should do his homework bfr he opens his mouth next time. If he is such a hot shot lawyer, he would have hit the nail on the first run leaving his point clear and unambiguous. Instead, he egged it up and came across as thoroughly befuddled, confused and incompetent, not only does his sloppiness reflect on his character, but it also puts PAP in a very bad light. As now many will begin to question, why can’t these “high flyers” seem to communicate effectively without resorting to endless corrections, clarifications and long winded contextual explanations. This doesn’t seem to affect any other ministers or leaders in other countries who are paid less and have to do more work as their population and landmass is bigger, so why does it only seem to afflict these people? Maybe they should check the water supply in Parliament for verbal diarrhea bacteria?

    With frens like these PAP does not need any enemies, they already have a walking and talking time bomb.

  7. Twist and turn, flip and flop. The think they can get away with it with the our nation building media like the past. In most other democratic
    countries, they will be skewered by the press .
    Would he even bother to clarify on his clarification, reexplain on his
    explanation if not for the prevalence of the social media?

  8. […] respect he commanded in the eyes of the Prime Minister – attracting, given the context, rightful criticism. Misspeaking aside, however, the message conveys a general underlying truth: everyone has a right […]

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