Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim urged the Malay community to give the elected presidency (EP) a chance to develop and allow it to evolve in response to a question during a dialogue with tertiary students on whether the upcoming presidential election is "mere tokenism".
Speaking in an event which was held as part of an inaugural Singapore Model Cabinet on Sunday (12 February), the Minister asked to give it a chance and see how it works because no policy is cast in stone.
"One day, the Government might change its mind and decide that this reserved election doesn't work. You never know," Dr Yaacob added.
He said that members of the public should have to sort of recognise the fact that Singaporeans must continue to evolve and learn from the experiences on the ground.
The upcoming Presidential Election (PE) that was due to be held on or before 26 August 2017, has been announced by the Government to be held in September to avoid clashing with National Day celebrations. It has been reserved for candidates from the Malay Community as the country has not seen a Malay president for 46 years since Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak, who died in office on 23 November 1970.
There were over 100 students joined in the learning about policymaking and participating in simulated Cabinet meetings in the event held by Reach.
Dr Yaacob stated that he would not contest the upcoming election as he said that his preference would have been clearly an open election, where a Malay could actually win the EP on his or her own merit.
However, he added, "But I think we also have to ask ourselves whether or not we are able to achieve that if we take that risk."
Dr Yaacob noted that tribal tendencies "are still very strong" and "run deep", noting that this occurred not just among the minorities, but even among the majorities, saying, "So how you ensure that the imbalance doesn't become a burden on the minority is something which the Government has to think about all the time."
He said, "The Malay community is concerned not just about the president, but also Malay permanent secretary, Malay general. Because we want to see representation across the entire Singaporean life".
The Minister then added, "But we believe it must come about because of meritocracy. Even for the elected president, you don't just pick up somebody from Geylang Serai - the person must qualify, the person must earn the respect of all Singaporeans."
Almost all of public comments on the matter, disagreeing with the idea of having a racially reserved election for President, saying that the Government should just go with appointed presidency if it insists on running with the reserved for candidates from the Malay Community.
Here are what some of the public comments noted:
- Ta Kong Wei wrote, "I feel a bit sad that our presidential election had to come to a point that it is reserved for him or her of a different ethnic group.
Come on.... We are all Singaporeans right?"
- Bernie Pa wrote, "Do not use the word Election la. Appointed or Selected this is a better word to use la. Even $12million hongbao draw don't guarantee a single person will win. This one guarantee to pay money for a few years next generation no need to worry about money anymore."
- Zulkarnain Hassan wrote, "The remark on can't be picking anyone from Geylang Serai shows he doesn't represent the community but his party. I'll vote for that person from Geylang Serai even if he's isn't a Malay, as long as he has integrity, unlike the present ministers we have.
Changing the constitution suka-suka for their advantage and benefit. Nobody elected you to represent us, so don't make it seem what you say is what we want."
- Gerrard Leow wrote, "But I think we also have to ask ourselves whether or not we are able to achieve that if we take that risk," he added. .... sound like he "belittle" the minority !"
- Michael Tan wrote, "Don't understand why need to define a race to be a President?
We have different races of Presidents during the past 50 years- Malay/Chinese/Eurasian and Indians. Why now??? This will create more issues for Singaporean."
- Lee Chong Leng wrote, "This is not like a game that can be played. Ours foreign reserve cannot be jeopardised by wrong doing at any one time. We want the best chosen from all races and not a Best from Chinese, Malay, Indian or other races. Singaporeans with potential and calibre should have the equal chance to go for the election! If not is a waste of time."
- Christopher Supramaniam wrote, "EP to develop? What about Ong Teng Cheong , Nathan and Tony Tan .. They were the 1st three elected President to be elected by the people. Are you saying that Singapore has not evolved and matured yet?"
- Kris Tan wrote, "Well, he is right. The policy will change when it doesn't benefit the People's Action Party."
- Ron Koh wrote, "That kind of policy is a farking joke. Even grossly overpaid ministers are unable to differentiate between elected and appointed? You appoint a clown or puppet is not considered an election. WTF! FYI President Trump is elected president, not appointed."