Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Question University Priorities

When a university goes out of its way to wax lyrical about how two-thirds of its graduates have secured jobs before graduation, some tough questions need to be asked about its motivations for doing so.

Insecurity could be one motivation. This was implied in remarks made by its top academic when he touched on the communication or social skills of this university’s graduates as compared to another.

Alternatively perhaps, its actions are motivated to offer cold comfort to those critics disillusioned about the university's ability to attract employers for its students.

Then again, shouldn't such ability to attract employers be inherent and natural for any university of some reputation?

In light of the ‘Singaporeans first’ policy espoused recently by the architect of Singapore’s current tertiary education system, the other question that should be asked is how these statistics compare as between graduates who are Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans.

The university has also disclosed that some of its graduates are earning five-figure wages. When figures like these are dished out, what kind of signal is it sending about the values it represents as an institution of higher learning? Is the amount of money a job pays the best way to judge the worth of a job?

Needless to say, employers fire even faster than they hire. As I write this, I know of several employers that presently have hiring freezes in place. The graduates earning five-figure incomes may find themselves at the gates of these employers if they can’t match up to the level expected of them or if the market turns against them. One wonders what the university will do then.

The university should share more about the one-third of its graduates that have not secured gainful employment.

How many of them are Singaporean ethnic minorities? How many of them are foreigners who will not be able to complete their compulsory bonds to work in Singapore?

Some ten years ago, at the time when I graduated, similar bullish sentiments were expressed about its then graduating cohort. I am informed that the reality faced by some of its graduates was a different one.

They did not earn the meteoric salaries purported to have existed. Permanent positions were hard to come by so they settled for temporary or term positions.

A few were extreme cases. For example, despite sending out tens of applications, one of its graduates failed to secure a single job. His first job only came over a year after graduation and that too on a contract basis.

At that time, anecdotal accounts also suggested that Malay graduates had a harder time securing positions.

In recent years, I am told this appears to be changing. As more foreign banks open in Singapore, they are moving away from traditional sources of recruitment. The foreign banks have made no secret of the fact that they want to grow bigger than local banks. Their efforts to challenge the status quo are ruffling feathers aplenty.

There is a greater desire on the part of these financial institutions to tap the Malay hinterland of Singapore and the flow of funds within ASEAN, including those from the Arab world. As such, their recruiters have been scouring the universities for Malay graduates.

Any university of some reputation does not need to brandish employment figures to show how well its students are doing. That is a given. It should focus on helping those graduates that need a leg up in securing suitable employment.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Too Much Too Little Too Late

I am dedicating this song to President Sellapan Ramanathan in honour of his new-found determination.

Suddenly, he has woken up from his two terms of slumber. He has been in the news almost daily to show that he intends to leave the office that pays him millions annually on a high note.

In doing so, he has shown an unprecedented resolve to ensure that he does not go down in Singapore’s history books as this country's most uninspiring and notoriously silent elected President, when compared to the legacies left by the late Presidents Wee Kim Wee and Ong Teng Cheong.

Yesterday, taking a page from at least one presidential contender Tan Cheng Bock, he was seen on television attending the World Cup qualifying match between Singapore and Malaysia.

To show that he is in the know about his position as defender of minority rights in this constitutional democracy, he has attended separate events for such communities in Singapore; one day he was launching a book on the origins of Indians and another day he was promoting the very unhealthy but tasty dish called ‘briyani’ at a mosque.

If that wasn’t enough, he followed another example from presidential contenders Tan Kin Lian and Dr Tony Tan, to comment on matters that are in the realm of the Executive.

Addressing the Malay-Muslim community leadership, he expressed concern about divorces rates within the community. He has remarked, “The other day I went to see the foster mothers. The large number of Malay foster mothers looking after children. These are not orphans who have lost their parents. We should bring it down through education and counselling."

I have always respected the office of President. But last year, I found myself unable to respect the leadership of the current President. At the National Day Parade, the President, instead of walking shoulder to shoulder with the many men and women who dedicate their lives to our armed services, chose to depart from tradition and inspect the guard-of-honour from a motor vehicle. This was billed as the "first presidential drive past inspection on the Padang (using the SAF ceremonial Land Rover)". To me, however, it reflected a presidency disconnected or out of touch with the people of Singapore.

Compare this to a Singapore of yesteryear: the President of this country led the parade in his full suit, while the rain pelted the sacred grounds of Padang. The President stood there with his unbendable resolve to set an example for the many men and women at that parade. In that process, he inspired a whole generation of youths, one of whom would go on one day to be the Prime Minister of Singapore.

Some of my friends tell me I am being unduly harsh to the President as, taking into account his ripe age, he has achieved much. They say he was a very elderly man by the time he put himself for presidential elections, when he really could have chosen to stay away from the limelight and spend time with his many children. With the benefit of hindsight, he perhaps should have.

As a Singaporean, it only leaves me to wish him a retirement that is as remarkably silent as his presidency.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Future of Singapore is mixed

This week, a law student told me about her Chinese friend, who used to date an Indian boy. The parents of this boy found the relationship so objectionable that they used to lock him up to prevent him from meeting his girlfriend. He would be left with little choice but to climb out of windows to meet her.

This difference became a frequent cause of misunderstanding, and eventually her friend ended the relationship.

I asked the law student what she would do if she were in those shoes. She replied that, even though her parents were very liberal, they would not accept an inter-racial relationship. As such, she would give her parents' interests precedence.

I realised things have not changed very much since I left school. Acceptance of our differences remains a relevant issue. In this context, I was reminded of this view I wrote for New Sintercom on 2 May 2006 (updated version below).


There is something consistent about a good portion of the Singaporean Indians that have been introduced by the People’s Action Party to be its parliamentary representatives in the last decade. They either married an individual from another race or they are themselves fruits of an inter-ethnic marriage.

While this increasingly reflects the changing face of the Indian community in Singapore, it is also reflective of an evolving Singaporean identity and the ruling’s party desire to hone bi-cultural or multi-cultural leaders.

Quite a few non-Indians in the current political leadership are likewise married to someone from another race.

There are two primary ways one can get married in Singapore; under the Women’s Charter or Syariah Law. The Singapore Department of Statistics keeps count of both these methods.

Between 2002 and 2004, about 10% of marriages under the Women’s Charter was inter-ethnic, that is where a person married someone from another race. During the same period, about 20% of marriages under the Syariah law was inter-ethnic.

This month, a report of the Department of Statistics noted, "In 2010, 20 per cent of total marriages were inter-ethnic marriages, up from 12 per cent in 2000. A higher proportion were inter-ethnic marriages among Muslim marriages (33 per cent) than among non-Muslim marriages (18 per cent)."

Taking into account these statistics, political and community leaders, who marry a person from another race or are results of inter-ethnic marriages, are in a position to speak for a substantial group of individuals in Singapore.

Some believe that inter-racial marriages represent the glue for bringing our races together, in light of the post-911 years which have been testing times for race relations in Singapore. They tell you colourful stories to persuade you.

A few years ago, one Chinese chief executive officer of an insurance company shared with me how, when he was much younger, he would date non-Chinese girls and bring them home to make his parents more culturally sensitive!

While his first love was an “ang moh”, he respected his parents’ wishes and married within his own ethnicity. (He harbours hopes that his child will “do what Papa couldn’t do”.)

To these people, leaders with inter-ethnic backgrounds are role models.

But to others, questions ruffle:
a. can these leaders appreciate or emphatise with the concerns of the majority, who still marry someone from the same ethnic origin?
b. can these leaders fully relate to the issues affecting their own ethnic communities?

The assumption in such questions is that the problems affecting the people of Singapore can be apportioned along ethnic lines. The people who raise such questions are quick to point to the existence of organisations such as:
1. Mendaki
2. Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP)
3. Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA)
4. Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC)
5. Eurasian Association (EA)

They say, “The fact that these “self-help” groups exist shows that our problems are fundamentally racial. Due to this, it will not be easy for our ‘inter-racial’ leaders to relate to them.”

The assumption however is cursory.

For example, through its programmes, some of SINDA’s priorities can be identified, which include helping:
a. students to do better
b. individuals to manage their finances better
c. women to be more empowered
d. families to become more computer literate and embrace a learning culture
e. displaced / retrenched workers find suitable employment
f. keep vulnerable persons out of trouble

These areas of focus obviously do not just affect one community alone. While it may be true some of these areas affect one community more than others, they are undoubtedly issues affecting Singapore in general. These are issues which any competent leader in Singapore, regardless of background, must be able to handle.

Leaders with inter-ethnic backgrounds have also been able to extend their appeal beyond their community to Singaporeans in general.

At the community level, many of them are highly-regarded. They have displayed a willingness to listen and learn. They have shown that they are capable of translating feedback into policies and actions beneficial for society. Their oratory prowess is what Singaporean legends are made of. Several of them are multi-lingual (or are learning to be multi-lingual). They are sensitive to cultural nuances and cosmopolitan. Their popularity has prompted some to boldly argue that these leaders do not need the constitutional buffer that Group Representative Constituencies provide them to win elections.

Leaders, who either married a person from another race or are themselves fruits of an inter-ethnic marriage, represent a future of Singapore that cannot be ignored. The success of political leaders with such inter-racial backgrounds means we can look forward to more such leaders in years to come.

The future of Singapore is mixed. (To which some of my friends retort, "But you are still looking for your non-Indian bride!")

Dharmendra Yadav

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where is the money, TOC & TRE?

In the heat of the recent general election, alternative media platforms like The Online Citizen and Temasek Review Emeritus launched their respective fund-raising efforts.

Many Singaporeans dipped into their hard-earned salaries to support such work. Others contributed part of their Grow and Share package to these causes. In doing so, these individuals chose to forgo the 250% tax deduction one would enjoy by giving to government-approved charitable or civil society initiatives.

According to its website, as at mid-July, TRE has raised some US$31,000. On the other hand, less is known about how much exactly TOC has raised. Has TOC also raised a similar amount, if not more?

There are at least two questions such donors should also ask now. Where is all that money going to go? How has it been used so far?

It has been some months since the general election came and went.

Candidates who ran for political office have all filed detailed accounts about how they spent the money they raised. Yet, we have heard very little from such alternative media platforms about their fund-raising efforts and how they are using or intending to use the funds they have raised.

In contrast to TOC, TRE does give a regular update on its website how much it has received. In the past, TRE has also indicated where its funds are going to be utilised.

Apart from one statement touching on this issue more than a month ago and assuring greater transparency, TOC has not disclosed what it has done and what it intends to do with the funds it has raised. However, it is public knowledge that it has organised at least one dinner in honour of a prominent opposition politician following its fund-raising efforts.

Of course, one could argue that there is less to worry about TOC. Following its controversial gazetting as a political association under the Political Donations Act, its operators are registered and its sources of funds are monitored by the Singapore government.

Its representatives, which include outspoken financial practitioner Leong Sze Hian, are also visible. They attend mass events in Singapore and identify themselves as the public face of TOC. There is therefore perhaps less of a need for TOC to be accountable to its donors.

Conversely, almost nothing is known about the operators of the TRE. They carry out their work covertly. Their sources of funds are unregulated. Given how they go about their work, it is more important for them to be accountable to their donors and, to some extent, they have been.

Nevertheless, taking a step back, it is important to ask another question. Should regular donor accountability be something we insist on from such alternative media platforms?

Is it fair to require this from what is largely an initiative driven by volunteers who expose themselves to multiple risks without any expectation of monetary reward?

One could say too much focus on donor accountability could distract them from the work they are carrying out as alternative media.

The best way to judge them is not by their plans but by the work they are doing. After all, people donated to them on the basis of their track record. If they continue to do satisfactory work, they will continue to attract donors. If not, the tap will just stop gushing.

But then again, in the course of their work, TOC and TRE do a lot of finger-pointing, headline-grabbing and table-pounding.

In the course of espousing principles of fairness, transparency and accountability, they seek to assert their perceived authority on a range of issues, regardless of whether it involves a leader like the Prime Minister or a follower like the foreign worker making a living by pursuing the shunned dollar in Singapore.

Why should they therefore not be judged on these same principles of fairness, transparency and accountability?

In this context, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that both TOC and TRE owe a comprehensive explanation to their donors, which should be done regularly.

One can only hope that this will follow soon.

Dharmendra Yadav
*Disclosure: The writer is a donor of The Online Citizen.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A clarifying tale of two politicians from the legal sector

A former press secretary to a minister in Singapore once told me that it was not the policy of the leadership in power to respond to issues raised in the online or alternative media. I told the dutiful secretary that such thinking would one day cost the leadership, and be a thing of the past.

About ten days ago, Temasek Review Emeritus and news agency Associated Press published articles that, at an event organised by a policy think-tank, my friend, the Honourable Member of Parliament Vikram Nair ‘dismissed’ Singaporean opposition voters ‘nonchalantly’. He is alleged to have remarked, “Don’t focus too much on the 40 percent that didn’t vote for you. We have to remember and keep in mind the interests of the 60 percent that did.”

The story was picked up almost instantaneously on social platforms and it spread like wild-fire. Vikram’s remarks were controversial enough to cause the Honourable Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh to distance himself from Vikram’s remarks days later at another event.

Vikram has now clarified through social platforms that he was inaccurately quoted. Not surprisingly, The Online Citizen - the alternative media that is seen to balance the blunt views of Temasek Review Emeritus - has published Vikram’s reply.

As one of those taken aback by the remarks quoted who chose to give Vikram the benefit of doubt, I can accept his clarification.

However, what I cannot accept is that it took him a good ten days to respond with his position. I also cannot accept that, when he did so, he shared what he recollected rather than what was actually shared. If it was going to take so long to make available a response, he should have made available a transcript of what he said.

Think-tanks like Institute of Policy Studies, which organised the event, are known to make recordings of their events, if not take detailed notes of what happens at such events, for research or archival purposes.

Perhaps, Vikram faced some difficulties in getting hold of such records. Whatever the case is, the clarification appears to have come too late in diffusing the sting in an article positioned as a contemporaneous account of the event.

Compare this to a similar incident that happened at the same event involving another friend of mine, the Honourable Member of Parliament Pritam Singh. Mainstream media quoted Pritam as follows: "It may be a case in future whereby the PAP only wins 36 (seats) and we may have to form a coalition government."

Within a day, Pritam clarified his comments. His swift clarification helped to diffuse the sting in the remarks he was alleged to have made at the event.

It is heartening to know that the dominant leadership’s deliberate disenfranchisement of the alternative media is now a thing of the past but it would appear that the leadership in power has miles to go in its handling of adverse publicity in the alternative media.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

More than meets the eye in Jee Say presidential bid?

Serial killers often display a pattern of murders before they earn their titles in criminology. For our presidential candidates, a metaphorical pattern of murder is also emerging: resigning from their respective political parties so as to kill their links with such organisations in attempts to declare new-found independence.

Tan Jee Say, in announcing his bid for the presidency, has not bucked this trend. However, can such trend-setters really be independent of the parties they once represented?

Inherent in this too is the pattern of another Tan emerging to mark his spot in the presidential race. My friend, Aaron Koh, of the dormant Mediaslut, candidly remarked, “You can shout "I vote for Mr Tan" and your vote is still a secret!”

Jee Say has trailed his guns on the criteria that entitles one to be President; the requirement that a person must have for at least 3 years been “chairman of the board of directors or chief executive officer of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act (Cap. 50) with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency”, or been “in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organisation or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which, in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee, has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President”.

Jee Say is going to rely on his leadership position on a shelf company, which through affiliated or related entities managed over $100 million in assets. A friend has kindly pointed out to me that this reliance is kinked.

It was domestically reported, "As for fulfilling the eligibility criteria, Mr Tan said he was chief executive officer with the title of regional managing director of John Govett (Asia) and its successor company AIB Govett (Asia) from February 1, 1997 to March 6, 2001."

What domestic media was too kind to omit was an issue picked up by international media many years back. The international report noted, "The Asian crisis of 1997 to 1998 crippled Govett's business, which is largely focussed in Asia, and despite 'substantial restructuring' the business lacked the scale and was not expected to return to profitability in the near future."

Perhaps, if the state of Singapore’s national reserves are “crippled” or in need of “substantial restructuring”, Jee Say could make a strong candidate.

With such cards stacked against him, can Jee Say therefore pull it off?

This determination will now fall on the Presidential Elections Committee comprising a majority of public servants:
a. Eddie Teo, Chairman of the Public Service Commission
b. Chan Lai Fung, Chairman of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (former Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Law)
c. Sat Pal Khattar – Member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights (founder of the split law firm KhattarWong)

The public service mentality is, when in doubt, reject – which is perhaps what is going to happen to Jee Say’s bid. Of course, such rejection means the decision may end up in court for judicial review.

If history is predictive, some great battles of the Singapore Democratic Party have been fought in the Singapore courts. It is these battles that have enabled the SDP to win sympathisers and become a household name.

Jee Say’s candidacy could be one such battle that is brewing. If that battle drags on in the courts and the judge hearing the matter is empathic, Singapore may end up without a President for some time.
In the context of the legal backgrounds of some its members, there can be little doubt that the Presidential Elections Committee will probably come out of such a battle victorious but bruised.

What it could also mean is that Jee Say would have effectively brought domestic scrutiny to bear on the process to elect a President. It would also give him the standing that he needs as an opposition leader to serve as a check and balance to the ruling party.

There is clearly more than meets the eye in Jee Say’s presidential bid. While his bid will help address the desire of many Singaporeans for a “non-PAP President whose independence of the PAP is clear, obvious and cannot be in doubt”, it will also give him the platform he needs to eventually hold political office. The sum total of this could well be that his place in Parliament in 2016 would be more or less secured.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Of odd politicians & political office

Two political developments in recent weeks have negatively affected me.


This should be the new name of a special team in the Prime Minister’s Office, who have been designated to take care of the affairs of two former Prime Ministers: Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

I find this extension of services by the Prime Minister’s Office a conceit; we don’t want our former Prime Ministers near us but we will still give them a way to hang around.

Some days ago, I was aghast to watch on television Lee attending a public event surrounded by a battery of security officers. As he no longer holds a ministerial position, it made me ponder who is bearing the cost of such splendid security.

It would appear that, despite not holding any official position in the Executive, our former Prime Ministers continue to enjoy unprecedented privileges, far more than what any sitting Member of Parliament or a former minister would be typically entitled to.

At a talk recently, the Honourable Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh shared how his parent expressed disappointment about the treatment of Lee following the last general election. With respect, in the context of the observations above, the great leader in all probability deserved it.

I am neither ungrateful to our former Prime Ministers nor do I accept that they should be forgotten for what they have done. However, I feel very strongly they should have long followed the example of their peers like the late Dr Goh Keng Swee and left political office totally.

If there is a need to involve them in government matters, they can be appointed independent consultants. It is imperative, given their exit from ministerial office, that they should not be permanently relying on employees of the state.

There are many examples of these in other democracies, where leaders have stepped down but in their independent capacities are tapped from time to time for national duties.

Plus, if they are really needed to support other statutory boards or government-linked companies, it should be those entities that should provide the support rather than that of the Prime Minister.


New Government Parliamentary Committees have also just been announced.

In essence, a GPC is a component of the ruling party. It is partisan in nature. Its work is backed by a panel comprising members of the public. GPCs were created "to increase the participation of MPs in policymaking, to give the public a say in government policies through sitting on resource panels, and to strengthen democratic institutions in the country" at a time when there were almost no opposition Members of Parliament.

In carrying out its work, each GPC "examines the policies, programmes and proposed legislation of a particular government ministry, provides the ministry with feedback and suggestions, and is consulted by the ministry on issues of public interest".

It is clear from its work that the GPC enjoys special access to the relevant ministry, including knowledge of matters that may be of a confidential nature. This is something which no other political party enjoys in Singapore.

I therefore found it really odd to learn that a current Member of Parliament, who is reportedly still the subject of a police investigation, has been appointed to deal with matters concerning law and home affairs.

Shouldn’t this put her in a position where her interests conflict with the interests of these ministries?

Notwithstanding this, it certainly puts government officials in the law and home affairs sectors in a very difficult position since they will now have to be accountable to her on top of investigating her.

Lately, odd politicians and political office seem to be the flavours of the month.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Public Transport System Structurally Flawed

I gave up on our public transport system two years ago for various reasons. I choose to drive. This means I have to cut down a lot of other expenses. (Wealth Watchers made this decision easier for me.) When I don't drive, I walk (or fly). When I do take public transport in exceptional situations, I come out reassured about the choice I made.

I was in the Republic of Singapore Navy when Singapore's current Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew earned his first star as a commander. He was among the friendlier commanders who you knew, beneath his poetic charm, had those balls of steel that would give him the resolve to die defending his ship.

Lui seems to be showing signs of such resolve with his current unwavering position on the structure of Singapore's public transport system (see more below). He is on a collision course with opposition party politicians. He is not going to have an easy ride, since this is something which even grassroots leaders, like my friend below, find unpalatable.

Dharmendra Yadav


I am no expert in public transport, but when I read Minister Lui’s blog “Public Transport Fare Increase” written on 13 July 2011, what struck me was the statement “it is the profit incentive of commercial enterprises that spurs efficiency and productivity improvements”.

While I cannot fault the statement, perhaps it might be instructive for us to consider this statement in the context of the nature of our public transport market.

SBS and SMRT are the two dominant players in our public transport sector. They presumably hold substantial market shares. Industries containing firms with substantial market shares are called “concentrated industries” because their market share is in the hands of few firms (in this case, SBS and SMRT).

Further, demand for public transport can best be described as inelastic, as many Singaporeans rely on these services for their daily needs. Who else can they turn to other than SMRT or SBS, unless they own a car or choose a taxi company that is not owned by SMRT or SBS?

Under these conditions, the profit maximising firm will constantly strive to raise prices. Demand will not be affected because it is inelastic. And because SBS and SMRT operate as a duopoly in this market, and I assume their market share is largely equal and stable, there is no real incentive for them to drop price to fight to gain market share, and thus, the only logical move would be to keep the status quo, and better still, request for price rises together. (In such a situation, it makes sense for one to follow the move of the other, why rock the boat?)

In such a duopolistic environment, I doubt there is a huge incentive for either SBS or SMRT to compete, which makes our public transport sector less competitive. Worse, such environment may stifle any need to be innovative or responsive to customers.

We are already seeing signs of such lethargy in both companies. Today, we see people packed to the brim in trains. People are unable to board buses because they are too crowded.

It is thus no surprise to me (and most Singaporeans I assume), that the “experience” of travelling in our public transport has been less than satisfactory.

I am not optimistic that the profit incentive will drive efficiency and productivity improvements designed to serve commuters better.

Great Expectations

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Saturday, July 09, 2011

What the presidential election guidelines really mean?

The Prime Minister’s Office has released certain guidelines on how the Presidential Election campaign is to be conducted.

The official position is that the guidelines serve to ensure “the process of getting elected to the office of President should be dignified and above the political fray”.

A reading of the guidelines however may lead a person to a different conclusion.

By releasing these guidelines, the Prime Minister appears to be indicating that he and no else will dictate how the next President is elected and, in doing so, he will do all he can as head of government to ensure that the next head of state maintains some distance from the very people that decide his fate at the polls.

For example, the presidential candidates will only be permitted to one rally at a location selected by the government.

As the tradition established by the late President Wee Kim Wee has shown, the best outreach activity any President can undertake is to reach out directly to the people. Yet, the guidelines seem to cripple a candidate from rallying the same masses; something any of them will be expected to do ceremonially if elected.

Various studies have also shown that people tend to consume election coverage in the Singapore media with a pinch of salt. In this context, a rally is an important source of first-hand information on a candidate.

If rally crowds at the recent parliamentary elections are an indication, a rally by a presidential candidate not endorsed by the government could create serious crowd control issues. It would have been better for the Prime Minister to permit at least five rallies, one in each community development council district in Singapore.

It is thus reasonable to question if there is some other rationale at play here.

The candidate that has attracted much support from the present government leaders, as one former Prime Minister observed, is not the kind that will go out and win over the people on a matter.

This is unlike the other two presidential candidates, who are known to reach out directly to the masses at public assemblies, and could have an advantage on this front.

Instead, the Prime Minister has indicated “TV will be a major medium of the campaign because of its wide reach at the national level”. The presidential candidates will also benefit from “wider access to information about the candidates through the print media”.

This is where the candidate seemingly favoured by the government has an advantage.

Until very recently, he fronted one of Singapore's key mainstream media companies. Members of the media loyal to him could therefore feature him more prominently than the other candidates.

Of course, it could cut another way. Editors of the mainstream media unhappy with the past leadership of this candidate could cover him negatively.

Nevertheless, if one were to look at the mainstream media coverage of the divide between the government and late President Ong Teng Cheong, it is likely that the mainstream media will convey the information in a manner that the government wants it to carry.

Will this disadvantage the presidential candidates not favoured by the current government leadership? That remains to be seen.

All in all, one should ask if the guidelines are really tilted to “foster a campaign that maintains the dignity of the office and focuses on the key attributes of suitability and integrity of the candidates for the office of President” or to ensure that the candidate that has attracted the support of various members of the government of the day is eventually elected.

Dharmendra Yadav

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