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S’pore’s President’s Address is always written by government of the day, explained

The political parties that make up the government get to write the Address.

By Tanya Ong |Sulaiman Daud | May 8, 2018

President Halimah Yacob delivered her first President’s Address to Parliament on Monday evening, May 7, announcing the government’s priorities, policies and programmes.

Some angry responses from Singaporeans

Surprisingly, or not, some Singaporeans have expressed their anger over the fact that the president’s speech was drafted by members of the government.

Their ire was clear.

If the president is supposed to act as an impartial and non-partisan Head of State, how can she read an address written by members of the ruling PAP government?

Some even believed they have unearthed a conspiracy.

Screen shot from Straits Times Facebook page.
Screen shot from Straits Times Facebook page.
Screen shot from Straits Times Facebook page.

Some also took umbrage at the fact that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had asked the Cabinet ministers that make up the fourth generation leadership to draft the Address this time.

Screen shot from Straits Times Facebook page.
Screen shot from Mothership SG Facebook page.

And some even decided not to watch at all.

Screen shot from Straits Times Facebook page.

Which is actually what most Singaporeans did, anyway.

Address always drafted by government

While President Halimah is the first president to deliver the Address drafted by the 4G leaders, she is not the first to deliver the Address drafted by the government.

In fact, all of Singapore’s presidents have previously done so.

Starting from Singapore’s first president, Yusof Ishak, he delivered the first-ever President’s Address on May 6, 1968.

In his address, he outlined three key objectives that the government sought to achieve back then: Building up defence capabilities, greater economic growth, and the enhancement of a national consciousness.

These points are typical of how broad and all-encompassing the speeches are without exactly getting into the details.

President is non-partisan

There is nothing untoward about the Address being drafted by members of the government, and then being delivered by the president.

This is because the president is a non-partisan Head of State, and by delivering the Address, is supposed to inform the whole House of the government’s plans.

As President Halimah only gave up her membership in a PAP less than a year ago, some people might still associate her with the party, despite that not being the case.

What this means is that if another party was in power and formed the government, then the president would still deliver the Address drafted by them.

Singapore’s one-party dominance

It might seem weird for the president to read to the House a speech drafted by PAP members, because you might assume that the PAP had already discussed it beforehand.

However, the reason for confusion lies in Singapore’s unique circumstances.

Singapore’s Parliament is dominated by the PAP, with non-PAP members making up only a fraction of the whole.

But imagine that there were more non-PAP members in Parliament, or if about half of the MPs in the House did not belong to the ruling party.

In that case, it would make sense for the President to inform the whole House of the plans of the government, as they would not know about it before the Address.

So the President’s role does not change, regardless of whichever party is in power, or how many MPs it has in Parliament.

Other countries that have similar practices

The President’s Address in Singapore largely resembles the State opening of Parliament in the UK, where the Queen reads the speech written by members of her government.

This is because the Queen as the monarch and Head of State is exercising her constitutional duties in reading the speech.

When the Queen leaves, a new parliamentary session starts and Parliament gets back to work.

Members of both Houses debate the content of the speech and agree an Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech.

Other countries with Westminster systems of government, such as India, South Africa and Australia, also follow a similar practice, with the Head of State opening Parliament.

In Australia’s case, their Head of State is also Queen Elizabeth of the UK, so her appointed Governor-General of Australia does the honours instead.

In other countries like the US, the President is both the Head of State and Head of Government, so he delivers a similar address to Congress, called the State of the Union.

So there’s no conspiracy here, just procedure.

Top photo from Tan Chuan Jin’s Facebook

About Tanya Ong

Tanya knows pi to the 35th decimal place for absolutely no reason at all.

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