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Keep parliamentary politics out of presidential election

Keep parliamentary politics out of presidential election

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Substitute the process of direct elections for the president with something less politically heated, says Ho Kwon Ping.

I have previously feared and forewarned that this could happen: Regardless of the constitutional definition of the president’s powers, the process of direct elections for Singapore’s president produces similar vibes as electoral politics.

It is filled with heated debates and overtly political issues that belong to parliamentary politics.

People have in fact talked about a “by-election effect” to this current presidential election.

How? If indeed the president’s role is largely custodial and ceremonial, there is no harm to using one’s vote to send a signal to the ruling party.

The presidential election will then threaten to become a referendum on the PAP’s governance, rather than a vote for the best person for the job.

Do Singaporeans want this election to make people more divided, a phenomenon that has occurred since the general election?

We need to remember that the battle for the minds of the electorate belongs to the realm of parliamentary elections.

If it spills over, it will demean Parliament’s role as the proper arena for political debate.

What is of greater importance now is the need to review the process of direct elections for the president, and to substitute it with a less politically heated but equally representative process.

We should start reviewing the alternatives, immediately after this election or else the political realm will only be more divided in the future.

Even when we need to make a rational decision during Cooling Off Day, the irony is that this term only serves to imply the cut and thrust of parliamentary elections.

This commentary is a 60-second reduction of the original article published in The Straits Times, Aug. 26.

The writer is Ho Kwon Ping, chairman of the board of trustees of Singapore Management University. He is also the executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings.