S’pore intellectual Cherian George on Elected Presidency: Halimah would win “hands down” if she ran against Tan Cheng Bock

He also thinks the PAP has an "unrealistically dim" view of Singaporean voters, especially when it comes to setting racial prejudices aside.

Jeanette Tan | October 18, 2016 @ 12:16 pm

Public intellectual and journalism academic Cherian George has a few things to say about the Elected Presidency discussion that took place a few weeks ago, as well as the proposed changes to it.

One of the most striking: He’s very confident of a certain minority candidate. So confident that he thinks she will best Presidential Election 1st runner-up Tan Cheng Bock anytime. Despite the fact that she is a woman, Malay and a Muslim.

The associate journalism professor at Hong Kong Baptist University said this when he was interviewed on the subject, and other issues, to online culture magazine Mackerel, which published it on Sunday.


And here’s what he said:

1) It’s important to have a minority President, but the way the government has gone about it has been disappointing.

In case you can’t remember how they have gone about it, you can read this article for a summary.

The main thing grinding his gears: the suggestion to restrict elections to minority candidates if we have gone too long without a minority president.

2) Why? It seems to be assumed that we don’t have minority candidates who are capable of winning an open presidential election.

Well, he said, how about her?

Screengrab from YouTube
Screengrab from YouTube

“Halimah Yacob can win with no help or handicap. If they picked Halimah Yacob as a candidate, I don’t think they need to block Chinese candidates against her. She is enormously respected, she has extremely strong trade union labour credentials. She is respected by Malays as well as Chinese.”

3) Any prejudice about Halimah being Malay, Muslim and female wouldn’t come in the way of her success if she ran, and those who assume that it might are wrong.

He goes on:

“This is one of those cases where the PAP as well as some other Singaporeans have a very dim view of Singaporeans, and that view is unrealistically dim. Yes, there might be some prejudice against Halimah on account of her gender, religion and race. But this prejudice probably does not amount to some kind of total trump card that will ensure her defeat. Those backing her might have to fight a little harder. But whatever kind of handicap she carries would just quantitatively amount to a tiny disadvantage. And I don’t see how that can compromise her track record.”

4) And don’t forget the PAP’s massive machinery it has at its disposal for campaigning for its chosen candidate — are they doubting its ability to rally voters for her?

As a former unionist, Halimah would also have the backing of the entire union movement, and it’s not as if her support and esteem is limited to them and the establishment — many non-politically-affiliated Singaporeans would like to see her take on the role too, he said.

5) This was without doubt a missed opportunity to signal the success of Singapore’s multiracialism (Also, Halimah would win “hands down” if she ran against Tan Cheng Bock).

We’ll reproduce what he said about this in full, since it’s too good to summarise:

“I see it as a huge moment of opportunity for Singapore’s multiracialism. This is an opportunity to signal to the world, and ourselves, that after fifty years of nation building, we are ready to embrace a President who is not from the conventional mainstream.

Instead, what are we heading for? We’re heading for a situation where the PAP has decided to give a Malay candidate a walkover, which will taint the presidency forever. Whoever becomes the president next year will be a token president. Why taint it with the label of tokenism? It’s so unnecessary. I believe that if it were a straight fight between Halimah Yaacob and Tan Cheng Bock, Halimah would win hands down.”


Read his interview with Mackerel in full here.

Other things we’ve written about the Elected Presidency:

Everything you need to know about the Constitutional Commission’s recommendations for the Elected Presidency in 60 seconds

Everything you don’t need to know about the history of Elected Presidency in S’pore

Law minister K Shanmugam singles out Tan Cheng Bock’s disqualification from presidency

The race to the 2017 Presidential Election has officially started, you just haven’t noticed

Based on the Commission’s recommendations, Tan Kin Lian will be the only losing Tan automatically eligible for Presidency

Top photo by and courtesy of Marc Nair / Mackerel.

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About Jeanette Tan

Jeanette takes pride in her ability to sing the complete lyrics to "Hakuna Matata" and a host of other Disney songs. She is also enslaved to Katherine and George, her two cats.

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