There are 4 of them and only one who is endorsed by the establishment. The outcome is not so uncertain as the highly qualified candidates in the other camp will share the rest of the votes. What is encouraging is the number of people stepping forward to contest and expressing their views on what the elected president should do. For the first time in many years Singaporeans will get to vote for their president.
The most important issue linked to the presidency has been the management and transparency of our reserves. Ironically, the PAP govt that created the elected presidency to "protect" and "safeguard" our reserves came out explain that the presidents' role is limited by the constitution and so on. When the EP post was created in 1991, it was generally explained the "2-key" system would prevent a profligate "freak" govt from getting into power and spending away our reserves pandering to the demands of a lazy electorate demanding free education, housing, medical care....free everything. I will expalin a little later how and why we can become less fearful of this even without an EP. The biggest fear on the minds of Singaporeans with regard to the reserves is not that a govt get into power and give us freebies (some of the less motivated among you might root for this) for 1 or 2 decades and make us lazy but the loss of our reserved due lack of transparency, mismanagement and losses in high risk investments.
How a reserve that belongs to the people should be spent is an ideological issue - there is no logic in saving for the sake of saving and never touching it...you have to be saving for something emergencies, education, your children's future, donation to charity. Because the purpose of our reserves has never been articulated, it becomes hard to argue how it should be build up and managed. Many countries have laid out what the clearly what the purpose of their reserves are. For example in Finland, the reserves is partially used for a pension scheme for old so they have to get to a size to make sure they can fund such a scheme for a sustainable period. The idea of using reserves for making the lives of old folks who contributed to it better is something that the PAP will never do and consider it profligate spending. It is ideologically unattractive and unacceptable for the PAP. So what does PAP see is acceptable use of the reserves? Taking some of it during the Great Recession of 2009 to give out as wage subsidies to still profitable companies is okay.and they did it...but giving it to Singaporeans who suddenly fall on hard times is a no go.
See the whole idea of the EP (from the PAP govt) was to actually protect our reserves from a non-PAP govt that would use our reserves for reasons the PAP does not see as ideologically correct. So when a PAP endorsed candidate, formerly from the PAP govt, becomes president, there is ideological similarity - hence, few checks and no pressure on the govt. The public understands this and will vote for an alternative to the PAP endorsed candidate. We saw this in the first PE during which a relatively unknown candidate with rather "unenthusiastic" campaigning garnered nearly half the votes against the better known Ong Teng Cheong.
Today, our concerns about our reserves goes beyond how it is spent by govt. There are concerns about transparency, investment losses and management performance. These concerns have heightened since the last financial crisis wiped off a large amount of our reserves and the public observing high profile risky moves to invest in failing western banks. Having a president that sits between govt and reserves to prevent wasteful spending is does not address this concern. When govt spend, it is in the full view of the public - we know exactly how much and if we find it wasteful, we can simply vote the profligate govt out. The people themselves are the check and balance - if they have a good value system and are wary of populist govt trying to spend the reserves in an unsustainbale wasteful manner.If they are a people easily tricked and fooled by false promises and tempted by undeserved entitlements, they will vote for a govt that will splurge away the reserves and vote for a president that won't stand in the way of that govt. In that sense, the best guard against wasteful spending of the reserves is the people themselves - if they are educated and have a good value system, they will vote for a govt that will do the right thing.
What really concerns Singaporeans is what they cannot see and do not know about the reserves - it is not spending which has to be made known. We want the books opened and independentlyverified, we want the good performance measures and we want the best practices in place to mitigate the risk level.. If such transparency is not possible, we want to have someone respected and elected to office to do this. While the govt today has the power to deny a president access to the information, it is advantageous for the govt to work with the President if they want to win back the trust they lost.