The latest news on the appointment of 4 new members to the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) contain an interesting detail which could well determine the nature of Presidential Election (PE) contest in five months’ time.

For context: The two new members are former Keppel Corp chairman Lim Chee Onn and former Singapore Airlines chairman Stephen Lee.

And the two new alternate members? Chief executive officer of Ho Bee Land Chua Thian Poh and Bank of Singapore chief executive Bahren Shaari.

Yes Bahren Shaari.

Shaari has been touted by the media as one of the potential PE candidates for the Malay community, but has largely stayed out of the media limelight. For instance, he had not given quotes or comments in any of The Straits Times or Channel NewsAsia feature on PE.

Who is Bahren Shaari?

The appointment of 54-year-old Bahren Shaari to the CPA, raised a few eyebrows, as he was seen as a potential candidate from the private sector.

Shaari’s credentials are impressive

Source: Getty Images

According to Bloomberg’s Executive Profile & Biography:

Bahren Shaari has been the Chief Executive Officer of Bank of Singapore Limited since February 1, 2015.

Prior to joining Bank of Singapore, Mr. Shaari served as the Managing Director at UBS AG Wealth Management, responsible for the South East Asian and Australian markets. Mr. Shaari served as the Head of South-East Asia Region at Bank of Singapore Ltd. until February 1, 2015.

A well-respected banker with more than 25 years of private banking experience in various global financial institutions, he played a significant role in growing Bank of Singapore’s South East Asia business as Global Market Head since 2010.

He has been an Independent Non-Executive Director of Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. since April 1, 2012. He served as a Director at Maritime Port Authority of Singapore from 2009 to 2012. He holds a Bachelor of Accountancy from National University of Singapore.

For candidates from the private-sector, the revised criteria after the passing of the constitutional amendments in November last year, requires them to be the most senior excecutive of a company, that has an average shareholders’ equity of more than or equal to $500 million, during their most recent 3-year period of service.

Bahren’s tenure at the Bank of Singapore may be relatively short (less than 3 years), but he could still have been considered under the deliberative track for private sector candidates.

All signs point back to Madam President?

With this latest development, it seemed quite unlikely that Bahren will step out to contest in September, reducing what could have already been a limited pool of qualified candidates.

Another qualified candidate, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, has told Malay newspaper Berita Minggu in January this year that he is happy in his current role and did not see himself running for president.

The other potential candidate is former Minister and former Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi.

However, he was part of the nine-member Constitutional Commission that reviewed the EP and introduced the reserved election. He also told The Straits Times that he “has not given it serious consideration”.

This implies two possible outcomes:

a) A greater likelihood of a walkover
b) A greater chance of a face-off between two or more pro-establishment candidates from the public sector

Halimah Yacob, the Speaker of Parliament, and the minority race member of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, is now widely seen as a front-runner.

And there seems to be no competition in sight with less than two months before the application opens for qualified candidates to start applying for their Certificates of Eligibility and Community Certificates to the Presidential Elections Committee and the Community Committee.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had previously said that there are enough qualified Singaporeans of all races to vie for the post of elected president.

Let’s hope his sentiments are accurate.

Top photo from Tony Tan’s Facebook

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