Today's papers reveal something not quite right. And as a citizen, a morning reader of the Straits Times, I am confused.
Why? Here's the background.
First, we have the exchange between TCB and Shanmugam. The latter said: "(Dr Tan) spliced my remarks, rearranged them, and put them together in a way to suggest something which I did not say."
He was referring to what he said last year about some "circuit breaker" which would trigger a reserved presidential election.
It reports: "In (Shanmugam's) answer, he said it was a policy decision for the Government to make, adding that the Government would make its position clear after it had sought the AGC's advice on some legal questions."
In short, what our law minister said was this:-
"Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October (1996), I think we will have a position and we will make it public."
But the issue is "what is to be made public - the AGC's advice or the Govt decision (on the hiatus provision)?"
TCB said: "Would the Minister explain to Singaporeans his apparent contradiction?" TCB was referring to the statement "Once we get the advice, we will send it out."
But the law minister replied: "Clearly, I was referring to making the Government's position (and not the AGC's advice) public."
Actually, the law minister has a point. The AGC's legal advice is generally privileged and it was sought on the legality of the reserved presidential election (on its trigger).
I would not think that it is to be disclosed as it usually contains sensitive information to allow for confidential, candid, and free discussion. But there is no doubt that our law minister should have been clearer, because at such time, the last thing you want to do is to play with words.
And our law minister being our law minister added this remark: "Dr Tan may be bitter. But that is no excuse for engaging in these elaborate charades."
Mm...I underscore the phrase "these elaborate charades" when I read in another section where House Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin was asked in an event organised by Roses of Peace about "how the elected presidency can continue to be representative as racial groups become less distinct?"
He said that he expected the reserved election system to be tweaked over the years when it evolves. This was actually anticipated by Parliament last year.
He added that the CIMO (Chinese, Indian, Malay and Others) construct "remains valid certainly for the near term. But over time, indeed as more and more mixed marriages take place, and we begin to see the shift in a more significant way, then you need to evolve."
This is what the House Speaker meant by evolving when he said:-
"One option to ensuring the system remains representative is the old way of appointing presidents...This was mooted by a Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency last year. It had said the Government could, at some stage, consider separating the custodial and ceremonial roles of the President and return to having Parliament appoint the President."
Did I hear it right, "return to having Parliament appoint the President"?
He added: "Under this system, that was in place until 1991, there was an unspoken rule that saw the role being rotated among the major racial groups."
Mm...that's the confusing part for me this morning.
Are we evolving (or tweaking) by "devolving" into the system before the EP was even started (the old way), that is, reaffirming parliamentary sovereignty by allowing parliament to (s)elect again when races get more "mixed up" and the racial lines are more blurred?
Well, I can't say that the recent Presidential walkover was not somehow deja vu for me of the old ways of parliamentary appointment.
Lesson? Just one, and it kind of puts the TCB-Shanmugam debate on the back burner.
Talk about "elaborate charades"...
If a singlish phrase is apt here, it will go like this: "elect or select, you say one; race or non-race, you say one; 100m or 500m, you say one; trigger or not-trigger, you say one; and new way forward or old way back, you oso say one."
In the end, are we back to square one? Or worse, are we back to square one as and when parliament decides to go back to square one?
I guess the ruling party rightfully rules and we have collectively signed this social compact like a marital vows for good and bad, in sickness and in health, in open, frank discussion and in elaborate charades.
Maybe this is a suitable case of "If it ain't broken, why tweak it?"
Our past selected presidents like Ishak, Sheares, Nair and Wee have been exemplary and shouldn't we just let dead dogs lie - if ultimately we may be going back to the old way?
And even if we wanted to evolve to be more democratic, cosmopolitan and all-encompassing, there is no doubt that the elected presidency was a refreshing touch to the whole EP system.
Singaporeans went to the poll for OTC and the four Tans, and we were finally voting for a truly elected President to represent us as the ceremonial head and nation-unity symbol.
All was fair and square in the election front, and the dogs were still sound asleep, dreamy even.
Then came parliamentary slam dunk this year with the trigger of the hiatus provision and the awkward presidential counting, and it hit us like hurricane all-whitey - the dogs are awaken and barking now...
While our ears were still ringing with the bombshell of Parliamentary sovereignty, trying to compose ourselves, the next thing that hit us was the presidential walkover.
Before that, there was a parliamentary siren-warning sounded when Chun Seng twice addressed the then House Speaker, "Madam President". But none of us took him seriously then.
And lastly, the new House Speaker now says that we may go back to the old way of selecting the president when races get too mixed and beyond clear definitional lines.
Well, you can't really blame me for having this feeling that I have been taken for a democratic joyride, or on a democratic treadmill where I have this sense of moving forward just to discover that I am actually not going anywhere. Cheerz.