The Online Citizen

Is multiracialism also just an aspiration?

January 04
11:20 2010

Breaking News:
HDB resale flat prices rose 3.8 per cent over the third quarter which saw prices going up by 3.6 per cent. (Straits Times) Singapore’s economy shrank 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter to December from the previous three months… (AFP)

Seelan Palay

Is multiracialism, like our national pledge, just another highfalutin ideal?

Multiracialism is the cornerstone of independent Singapore that became a sovereign state in 1965, breaking away from the federation of Malaysia. It was open racial discrimination in the polity of Malaysia that peeved the leaders of Singapore to champion the cause of multiracialism in Malaysia.

Singapore leaders, led by the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, justifiably opposed discriminatory practices based on one’s ethnic background, leading to Singapore’s independence within less than 2 years of being part of Malaysia.

On the fateful day of 9th August 1965, Lee Kuan Yew proclaimed to the world that Singapore would be an independent nation which will neither be “a Chinese Singapore, a Malay Singapore, nor an Indian Singapore”, alluding to the 3 major races living harmoniously in the former British colony.

But is Singapore’s aim to achieve a multiracial society just a pipe dream? As the National Pledge is now being described by none other than Lee Kuan Yew himself as just an “aspiration”, apprehension has been expressed, rightfully so, on whether the multiracial concept is also another “aspiration”, and not something that we should conciously aim for.

Reality on the Ground

I say this because of what is happening on the ground, especially in the service industry. Not long ago, the Sunday Times ran a story of China nationals working as restaurant assistants in Serangoon Road. It was reported that one of them had been working there for close to 2 years on a work permit. The person featured in the article (below) had also said that he had to work for 10 hours a day for a salary of $1000.

Following this startling newspaper report I went to Serangoon Road and was able to speak to one of the restaurant owners who said he could not get India nationals on work permit to do the same job. The Manpower Ministry, after a couple of unsuccessful applications to bring in India nationals, had told this owner verbally that if he were to apply for China nationals his request would be granted immediately.  Why only verbal explanation? Why not put it down in black and whilte?

As far as the policy of the Ministry is concerned, there is no discrimination along racial lines when it comes to the issuance of work permits. The MOM policy is country specific and not race specific – at least that is what the government says. However, it looks like there is an unwritten policy not made known to the public. It has come to my attention that not only restaurants, but also other sectors such as departmental stores and freight forwarding agencies have been affected by this obscure policy that goes against the grain of multiracialism.

Why must it only be China nationals or Chinese ethnicity? What happened to the foreign talent policy of allowing people to work in Singapore based on one’s ability alone? Is foreign talent just a myth, a disguised form of racism which Lee Kuan Yew vehemently opposed when Singapore was in Malaysia? Are Mr Lee’s multiracial, multireligious and multilingual concepts also figments of his imagination?

Mandarin for all?

Yes, it looks like it, especially when one recollects what Mr Lee Sr had said in March this year:  “In two generation, Mandarin will become our mother tongue,”  And taking the cue from the Mentor Minister a government official said that Mandarin will become Singapore’s predominant common language. Singaporeans are being encouraged to speak fluent Mandarin, said the civil servant.

A major shift indeed from preivious position that Mandarin would only be promoted among Chinese Singaporeans.

This tacit policy is beginning to be noticed clearly in everyday life.  It cannot be hidden that the recent Singapore contingent to SEA Games was mainly composed of China nationals.  In certain sports, the “new citizens” even dominated totally, leading some of us to wonder since when China became part of Southeast Asia?

Besides, the PAP’s deliberate manipulation of the country’s demographics through the unpopular “dumping” of aliens, is causing great stress and despondency among average Singaporeans.

Insidious Foreign Talent Policy

Critics of the government’s foreign talent policy have rightly condemned it as yet another move to depress the wages of our workers and turn them into cannon-fodder for foreign multi-national corporations (MNCs) looking for cheap labour. This naked exploitation of our workers, who form the vast majority of our people, not only continued but intensified even during the time of Singapore’s economic meltdown, resulting in the projected contraction of the economy to minus ten percent for 2009.  When daily hardships are the order of the day for our desperate workers, the government, unmindful of their plight, allows the influx of aliens in the name of its foreign talent policy.

It is obvious that the so-called foreign talent policy is a euphemism for something insidious that is best known only to the PAP top echelon. Like everything else, PAP says one thing in public, and does something else on the quiet.

This deceitful foreign talent policy of the government would definitely lead to alienation of a sizeable section of our people from being loyal to the country that is Singapore. Patriotism and love for the nation are under great strain.

As what Lee Kuan Yew of yesteryear said in 1965, let’s work towards a Singaporean Singapore. Not a divisive nation pulling along different directions based on ruinous tendencies of ethnicity, religion and language.

Seelan Palay is an artist and activist whose blog can be read at