Questions on the President’s Address

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By Augustine Low

Last Friday, as customary, Tony Tan delivered the President’s Address at the reopening of Parliament. It laid out the government’s broad policy directions for the second half of its term.

Politicians, also as customary, reacted positively to the President’s Address. In particular, they applauded the President’s call to do more for the older generation, for more options to unlock the value of homes and for improvements to the CPF savings scheme.

In essence, the speech covered areas and priorities that the government has already decided to focus on and which it outlined for the President to read.

This begs certain questions:

Is the President compelled to read out the speech as prepared for him by the government? Can the President give his personal imprint on the speech, and share his own thoughts and ideas?

After all, it is billed the President’s Address, it is his address to Parliament and to the nation.

What happens if we have an elected President who is not government-backed, and whose ideas and ideals differ from those of the government?

Someone like Tan Cheng Bock or Tan Jee Say, for example, who were candidates from the last Presidential elections. It being the President’s Address, they might want to have a say in how citizens’ lives can be improved, in their key messaging to Parliament.

Will we then be headed for a face-off?

Perhaps it is covered in the Constitution. Perhaps we should cross the bridge when we get to it. Perhaps we will continue to have elected Presidents who are government-backed and government-friendly, and who will just read out a speech prepared for them.

But we should not forget that during the last Presidential elections, it emerged that the majority of Singaporeans – and even the candidates themselves – were confused about the roles and responsibilities of the elected President.

And this could be a can of worms waiting to be opened.