Minority PM: Time for the leadership to take the lead

We apologise for the delay in publishing Mr PN Balji’s piece, as earlier indicated on TOC. It will be published at a later date. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Mohd Haireez / Guest Writer

In response to a question on whether Singapore is ready for a minority-race prime minister, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong suggested that while it is not impossible, it is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

In support of his proposition, Mr Lee revealed at a dialogue session organized by MESRA, that it was dependent on how people voted and suggested that the race of the candidate is an unavoidable influence in the voting pattern.

With all due respect to Mr Lee, his response is at best, unsettling, particularly after decades of struggle to portray the government as a racially-unbiased institution.

Mr Lee pointed out that race is a factor in the appointment of a Prime Minister.

This is especially disturbing considering that the position of Prime Minister is not constitutionally dependent on the votes of the average citizen but is contingent upon the decision of the President who is supposed to select a Member of Parliament “who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament..”, according to Article 25 of our Constitution.

In practice, while the People’s Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate Parliament, the person the party endorses as Prime Minister will be elevated to that position, and confirmed by the President. Hence, Mr Lee’s statement is especially important.

To suggest that race is an unavoidable issue in this appointment is to suggest that race is still a factor in deciding whether a candidate can command the confidence of our elected Parliamentarians. This leads to the inexcusable inference that our very own leaders are still somewhat racially-prejudiced.

I am not insinuating that our leaders should be free from the prejudices that plague the common man but as people whom the average person vests responsibility in, it is imperative that the government, at least the Prime Minister, should represent a figure who transcends racial lines.

I am also not suggesting that Singapore has reached a stage whereby citizens are Singaporeans first, before their own respective races, in all circumstances.

But if we accept that the way forward is embodied in our pledge “regardless of race, language or religion” as our Government has, then surely it has to start with our leaders.

In extension of his response, Mr Lee rationalised that the fact Senator John McCain garnered a majority of white votes in the recent US Presidential elections is a reflection of how race is still a factor in the minds of the American voters.

But this overlooks the fact that not a single Democrat has won a majority of the white vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 despite fielding white candidates as Presidential-hopefuls. In fact, Senator John Kerry, a white Democrat nominee, attracted less support from the white voters in 2004 than President-elect Obama did in the recent US Presidential election. Senator Kerry garnered just 43 percent of the white vote while still attracting the majority of the non-white voters despite being white himself.

These statistics make it at least clear that race, while etched in the minds of some, is only one of several concerns for the majority of the Americans.

The American people have shown that they are willing to start judging a candidate by his abilities, and not his race.

Similarly, a suitable Prime Minister must be assessed by his ability, regardless of his race.

Even if this remains an ideal, there is no reason why our leaders, especially Mr Lee, cannot endorse this ideal especially when it comes to selecting the Prime Minister of our multi-racial country.


About the author:

Mohd Haireez is currently a year 3 undergraduate at the NUS Faculty of Law. He believes that community-involvement is the most effective means of familiarising oneself with grassroot issues. Besides being a regular at Downtown east and Arab Street, the former Vice-President of the NUS Malay Language Society is himself an avid volunteer. He is currently the Chairman of the Youth Committee in Al-Istighfar Mosque and is working with NGOs like YAMP on several projects.


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