*This piece first appeared on Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s Facebook page.

PM in an recent interview in London talked about the possibility of Singapore having a coalition government in the future.

At a dinner, two young Singaporeans asked me what is a coalition government and the role of the President in such a scenario.

When no single political party has a majority of parliamentary seats in a General Election, the only way to form a government is for the party with the most seats to invite other minority seat parties to join it to make up the numbers to form a majority . So if all the opposition parties combined have more than half the seats, then they can form the government if all can agree to a coalition.

The smaller minority parties will set conditions to join. There will be a lot of horse trading and bargaining for ministerial posts and other key appointments. So you might get a DPM from a minority party or a finance minister from yet another party, as seen in many countries with coalition governments.

In such scenarios, each party would want to exert its influence and impress the people to score political points. More importantly, they may also try to court the President’s favour to utilise the reserves and lobby the appointments of key personnel in the civil service and stat boards.

The President in a coalition government must therefore stay absolutely neutral and show no favour to any coalition partner. He must not be seen to be affiliated to a political party. His integrity and honesty must be beyond question. He must be someone whose main concern is the people’s interest and not that of any coalition party.

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