I have been trying to wrap my head around the whole race thing of the elected presidency. I’ve watched and read most of the information out there and I still feel unconvinced.
So the race bit of the new EP system is as follows; if for 5 terms we have not had Race X type president, only Race X candidates will be eligible for the 6th term. Obviously, Race X is understood to be a racial minority given the unlikelihood of not having a single Chinese president for 5 terms.
The main argument for this is that:
- To begin with, it is symbolically important that we have minority representatives from time to time so that racial minorities can feel as though they may aspire to the highest office in the state.
- However, race is still a factor in deciding our connectedness to a person. IPS surveys show this; whether this person is my president or my son-in-law. If we expect electoral battles to be as close as the last presidential election, race becomes a decisive factor among two otherwise equal competitors.
- Some may feel that imposing a Race X president in any given term is effectively affirmative action. However, Race X candidates must meet the same eligibility criteria. Hence, meritocracy is not undermined as all eligible candidates will be qualified for the job.
My counter-response would be that:
- It devalues the highest office in the state. Of course its important that we have minority presidents now and then. If I consider myself as a political minority being a woman, I would absolutely beam at the opportunity to have a female president, but not at the expense of compromising the democratic standards of the electoral process. Do you think its going to mean a lot to me that I have a female president, if that position was not fairly won?
- There are better ways to get a minority president. They’re harder, but they’re worth the long term effort if we want to be the progressive society we claim to be. Yes race is a factor and is most likely to disadvantage racial minorities in an election. That is bad, but that is life. If the problem is that Singaporeans are racist or that not enough minorities are eminent enough to be eligible, imposing a president from a racial minority is a short sighted and patronising solution. Honestly, if I don’t see a candidate from the minority pool in the next two terms, I expect Singapore to look in the reflecting pool and work on long term ways to combat racism and raise the status of racial minorities in Singapore.
- It may not undermine meritocracy but it undermines democracy. Yes Race X candidate may have the same qualifying standards as other candidates set by the Electoral Commission, but that says nothing about the qualifying standards of average citizens. The average joe is going to vote based on how much they like you and whether they feel connected to you, which are very different standards from having run a company with $500million shareholder equity, but are probably more important. 99% of your time as president will be spent on smiling, shaking hands and making women (or men) swoon and 1% deciding whether the government can take money out of the reserves. We may not be undermining meritocracy but we’re certainly undermining democracy; giving the people a president they have freely chosen and love. A Race X president entering via the 6th term system will always be doubted on whether he/she could have been popularly elected in a fair and competitive election. This token of a president can never presume to possess the same degree of legitimacy as other presidents before him/her.
I think the implications may go further:
Because Race X is in all likelihood a racial minority, a Race X entering in the 6th term may be seen as less legitimate not by virtue of the system, but their race. This system unfairly robs the minority president from full legitimacy as an elected president.
Also, the majority Chinese may start to feel that 5 terms is an acceptable length of time for all Chinese presidents since the 6th term is reserved for a president who is a racial minority. Imagine the 5th election where the previous 4 were won by Chinese candidates, what incentive would the majority, already comfortably privileged, have, to choose a minority president, if they know the next one will be won by one already? They’ll probably think, “Better vote Chinese, next round no more liao.” Eventually, the pattern of 5 Chinese terms and 1 minority term may become normalised, when it really really should not.
So, no go on the race bit of the new EP system. The financial argument seems rather sound, though its hard for me to say that given that it makes the guy I liked now ineligible to run. But I’m trying to be unbiased so I have to concede on this point.
Then again, the fact that TKL is now a more eligible candidate than TCB is just beyond me. This brings me back to counter-argument number 3. The financial experience is important but it means less to the average joe than his character. TKL is so thoroughly silly, he will inspire no love or loyalty from Singaporeans. The criteria that we have set for the EP just so that he/she may make a better call together with the CPA, on a one-time decision regarding the reserves, wildly narrows down our pool of candidates. That is the reality we have to contend with when we accept the EP qualifying criteria, we lose some TCBs and are left with TKLs.
Similarly, the new system that guarantees at least one minority president in your lifetime causes all the aforementioned problems, and that is the reality of a token system; one where the prized position loses value and legitimacy as a whole.
I know the government is going to accept the commissions’ recommandations, table the legislation and amend the constitution anyway. But I just wanted to write this so that I won’t forget like I always do once I’m used to something.