SINGAPORE'S incumbent president was named to a second six-year term on Wednesday, Aug 17, after three would-be contenders were disqualified in a move political analysts said could hurt the ruling party in coming elections.
Sellapan Ramanathan Nathan, a former ambassador and internal security chief, was the only candidate deemed qualified under Singapore's unique set of requirements for the job.
"I have said before that I would have preferred a contest," he told about 1000 supporters, members of government-connected trade unions, after he was declared president at midday.
The public's interest in the largely ceremonial post was ignited this year by the possibility that the office would be contested for the first time since 1993.
"I think the public is annoyed that there was no contest and this might cost the PAP some votes in the next general elections," said Sinapan Samydorai, head of Think Centre, an independent civil rights group.
Starting the furore was 52-year-old Andrew Kuan, a chartered accountant, who said on Aug. 4 that he would run and who appeared to have the basic requirements to qualify.
Among the strict requirements are experience in heading a state agency or a firm with at least S$100 million (US$60 million) capital.
Kuan came under heavy attack for his track record as the former financial officer of a government agency, state-owned industrial landlord JTC Corp.
The high-profile scrutiny of Kuan's career riled some in the city-state who questioned the selection process as well as the JTC Corp.'s public statement that his performance was "unsatisfactory."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had encouraged Kuan's former employers to step forward to speak about his past performance.
"For the second time, the PAP have demonstrated that they will have no one as President other than someone hand-picked by them regardless of the wishes of the people," said opposition veteran J.B. Jeyaretnam.
An online petition started earlier this week to support Kuan's failed bid has collected about 300 signatures so far.
Lee, who became prime minister last year pledging greater political openness for Singapore, is expected to call parliamentary elections by the end of this year.
His ruling PAP, which has governed the wealthy island republic since its founding 40 years ago, will likely retain power but analysts say Lee must at least match the 75 percent vote won by his popular predecessor Goh Chok Tong for a strong mandate.
"The whole episode has played into the hands of the government's critics and gives them ammunition to say that the entire process is manipulated," said Gary Rodan, director of Asia Research Centre in Australia's Murdoch University.
This is the second time the presidency has sparked controversy since Singapore's parliamentary system was modified in 1991 to make the once-appointed office into an elected one.
Nathan's predecessor, Ong Teng Cheong, was openly critical of the government, complaining that information on Singapore's reserves was withheld from him in spite of his custodial role over the country's $116 billion reserves,.
"A strong personality can change the office into something the government does not intend it to be," said political scientist Hussin Mutalib of the National University of Singapore.
PAP leaders, including Singapore founding prime minister and father of the current prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, said they boosted the powers of the presidency so it could act as a second key to safeguard state coffers from reckless spending of any opposition-led government.
Nathan, who has had heart surgery and suffers from diabetes, said he has received a clean bill of health from his doctors.
Sources and Relevant Links:
Reuters Singapore incumbent named president unopposed 17 August 2005
Yawning Bread Presidential contest - panic in the PAP?