President and PM should be the First Couple

From ‘Display photos of Prime Minister, President instead of First Lady’, 30 Aug 2011, Voices, Today

(Charles Quah):…It is timely the relevant authorities review the current practice of having the official photographs of the President and the First Lady in Government offices, key civic buildings and Singapore missions abroad.

Many countries instead have official photos of the Heads of State and Government or Head of Government and their deputies. Perhaps we should consider this for the following reasons.

There will always be a Head of State and Head of Government. But the same cannot be said of a First Lady. Consider the plausible scenarios: If a future President is a bachelor, or if he is divorced, separated or widowed during his term in office.

In the not-too-distant future, as mentioned by Dr Tony Tan, we may have a female President. Should we then have the picture of the First Gentleman? Many patriarchal-biased visitors to Singapore, on seeing the pictures of the President and First Spouse, may be confused about who is the Head of State.

The wives of all four Presidential candidates have been wonderful spouses and pillars of support and would have deserved to be featured in their private (but not public) roles and capacities. That unifying role of the “First Couple”, in the realm of Singapore politics and public administration, should best be reserved for the President and the Prime Minister.

Tony Tan wants you to Like it

There’s yet another scenario which the writer omitted, that of the First Lady outliving the president and continuing his work. Puan Noor Aishah was exemplary in her public role even after the death of her husband and first President Yusof Ishak, who devoted herself to numerous charitable organisations, winning the Gold Medal of Honour in 1971. Mrs B.H Sheares was herself president of the Red Cross Society.  Then we had Mr and Mrs Devan Nair, a pair remembered for all the wrong reasons, with the ex-First Lady giving support to her embattled husband in a war of words with then PM LKY (Devan and wife respond to PM’s speech, 30 June 1988, ST)

Devan Nair and wife

It was a heart-wrenching moment in 1999 when President Ong Teng Cheong bid farewell to his First Lady and wife Ling Siew May, with his piano tribute of ‘The moon represents my heart’ showcasing a man with not just a deep love for his people, but more so for his wife. A scene of dignified yearning and loss which made the man more respected as President than ever before, because it proved that he wasn’t just a politician or a gatekeeper, but a vulnerable human being as well.

Eat your HEART out, Tan Jee Say

Good times or bad, the First Lady has always been a shining example of wife and mother to all Singaporeans, and she maketh the man that is the President. She’s not just the host of a presidential party who serves tea to visiting leaders and entertains their wives with baking recipes while their spouses talk business. With our current president elect dabbling in matters veering dangerously close to politics, and busy being a ‘watchdog’ over the reserves, it’s up to the First Lady to quietly continue the forgotten tradition of what presidents should be doing all along, helping the less fortunate and cultivating a gracious society, to the extent of becoming more ‘presidential’ in her activities than the husband himself.

Always room for girls' talk

Placing the love of his life next to the President is a tribute to the relevance of women in politics, and portrays a ‘softer’ side of our Head of State, as an otherwise ordinary man with a faithful partner who’s ready to support him in times of need. The First Lady provides an assuring  ‘yin’ counterbalance to the ‘Yang’ di-Pertuan Negara, and nothing creates warmth and affection in a figurehead like seeing him hand in hand with his better half. This is a re-imagining of how the original ‘First Couple’ would have looked like.

Yusof Ishak and wife

Contrast the pairing above to what I would imagine would be the outcome if people have heeded the writer’s suggestion in the past.

Yusof Ishak and LKY

Though it’s not so hard to distinguish the president from the prime minister in the image above if you were a foreigner, one may expect two powerful men tussling over whose portrait should be hung on which side of the wall. One wouldn’t want to be seen as the ‘right hand man’ of the other. There’s a sense of visual tension whenever you put two males side by side, pretty much like placing a lion next to a tiger like how it is on our Coat Of Arms. Without the calming presence of a lady, putting the President and PM next to each other may agitate one enough to want to punch one of the pictures in the face. Or you could end up with something like this:

So I say leave the First Lady’s portrait, dead or alive, where she belongs for now, and let her engage in public service in her own capacity as representative of the President. We’ll decide on what to do with the portraits of single, female or gay Presidents when, or should I say if,  the time comes.

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3 Responses

  1. If the President dies, the next President is elected and the current First lady then becomes a private citizen – hence the scenario is superfluous. 🙂

  2. […] Singapore Presidential Election : Evaluation [Thanks James] – Everything Also Complain: President and PM should be the First Couple – Everything Also Complain: 35.19% of Singaporeans voted maturely – The Thinking Fish Tank: […]

  3. I am agree to display PM’s portrait rather than first lady. First lady is not a official position. Her title, role and power are not even mentioned in Singapore’s constitution.

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