The Dawn of a New Political Era: Unpacking the 2023 Singapore Presidential Elections


3. The Unseen Influence of the Council of Presidential Advisers

Council of Presidential Advisors
President Halimah and her Council of Presidential Advisors

While much of the electoral focus naturally rests on the presidential candidates themselves, there’s another critical aspect that warrants public attention: the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

Bolstered by 1991 amendments to the constitution, the CPA has grown in influence. Today, the President must consult this council on a vast array of issues, from the use of the national reserves to pivotal public service appointments.

In essence, when we cast a ballot for a presidential candidate, we’re also placing implicit trust in their choice of advisers. Over the years, the CPA’s role has evolved from a mere consultative body to one wielding considerable sway over presidential decisions. Supporters of this augmented role contend that the CPA provides a vital layer of checks and balances, ensuring that presidential actions are carefully weighed rather than capriciously executed.

Should Voters Know About the CPA Appointees?

Given the CPA’s augmented influence, one could argue that the public has a right to know who the potential presidential candidates plan to appoint to this influential body. It’s a decision that arguably parallels the importance of a vice-presidential pick in other democracies, although with the expectation that CPA members should bring an independent mindset to their advisory role.

This point raises further questions about transparency and informed voting. Should the composition of the CPA be part of the campaign discourse? Could this knowledge influence voters’ choices and contribute to a more well-rounded electoral mandate for the president?

As Singapore navigates an increasingly complex and contested political terrain, mechanisms like the CPA should also evolve to meet new expectations of transparency and accountability.

Perhaps the national conversation surrounding presidential elections ought to expand beyond the individuals vying for the office to include the advisers who will significantly shape their policy decisions. This broadening of the electoral lens could offer a more nuanced understanding of what a “strong mandate” truly encompasses.

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