Presidential hopeful George Goh, 63, shared his views on the importance of being an "independent candidate" during an interview with Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Jun. 28.
Goh fielded questions on whether he was the right man for the role, discussing his views on the president's job scope, and whether his own religious beliefs would affect his presidency.
Goh, chairman of Ossia International, said that his company does not have any affiliation with the government and the "sovereign (wealth) funds don't invest in my company", adding that it could be a "blessing".
"We are not in a popularity contest. It’s about whether he is able to do the job. To me, the most important thing is independence," Goh said, in response to Walid commenting on the popularity of Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Tharman has declared his intention to run as a candidate for the presidency on Jun. 8, and will step down from all his government roles by Jul. 7.
He has also resigned from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).
Goh, however, said that Tharman is a "party man", as he is a Cabinet minister and "was in the public sector all his life." Tharman has held roles in the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and GIC, the sovereign wealth fund that manages Singapore's reserves.
"How to be independent? This is something for the people to understand - this job requires independence," Goh said.
Goh, a former non-resident Ambassador to Morocco, is not a member of any political party, grassroots organisation or government agency.
Former Man U player refereeing a Man U game?
Using football as an example, Goh presented a hypothetical situation.
"There's one good player in Man United, one day, he becomes a referee. Then, there is a match between Man United and Liverpool. Do you think that people will accept him as a referee? Think about it."
Goh stated that the Constitution requires a president to safeguard the reserves and to ensure that the right people are appointed to the key public positions.
"These powers are critical. That's why the president is elected, and not appointed anymore. Being independent is the only way to carry out the job. Independence is the key word," he said.
On his part, Tharman said during a media appearance on Jun. 11 that if elected as president, he would not be "on the same team" as the government.
He also used a football analogy, saying, "If anything, I will be the referee."
Did not flip flop: Goh
Walid pointed out that in a previous interview with TODAY, Goh said that it was important for the president not to go against the government, implying that the government and the president must maintain a close relationship with each other.
Hence, he questioned if Goh's stance had wavered, or "flip flopped".
However, Goh insisted that he did not "flip flop".
"I think most people do not understand the role of the executive, and the role of the president. The executive role is to set out policy and run the country day-to-day. The president’s role is to safeguard the reserves and to ensure that the right people are appointed to the key public positions."
He added that it was not the president's role to keep an eye on the government's day-to-day operations, and that he was explaining the powers of the president and prime minister.
Goh's position on the President's role
Goh has further clarified in a Facebook post on Jul.1, expressing his concerns with the "misleading reports and comments about my position on the President’s role".
Goh said that being an effective check on the government and working closely with the government "are not contradictory, but 2 sides of the same coin".Goh explained that "it is in the best interest of the people for me to work with the government" in areas where the President does not have executive powers.
However, Goh noted two areas where he can check the government as part of the president's constitutional duties.
"The President is a much needed safeguard of the people’s interest against the government of the day, should it decide to be wasteful with our national reserves or is biased about who secures important positions in government".
Goh concluded that therefore a president "must be an independent individual".
Walid asked Goh if his religious views as a conservative Christian would affect his presidency, if elected.
"Religion is personal. I believe that is your stand too. Presidency is public. We are a secular country. So we have to be very careful about that.
Religion affects the way we view things. That’s normal. But the president has to think for everyone when making decisions. I like Singapore because of the freedom to practise our faith and still stay as one nation. This is my view."
Asked about his "ideal Singapore" and what he likes most about the country, Goh pointed to our multiracial society where everyone is free to practise their faith and celebrate their culture.
However, he said that he is "worried" as "it is going to get harder for the people who are not from a good school or good family to succeed." Goh said that this would mean his "life story", as someone who "succeeded from nothing" would not be repeated.
Finally, Walid asked Goh, "...are you going to represent and fight for the rights of all, including queer or LGBT couples?"
"This is a very personal view, so I will keep it to myself. If I'm the president, of course I love all the people who are Singaporeans, right? That is my stand."
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