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Former SPH reporter Ismail Kassim responds to former NMP Calvin Cheng about the tudung issue

A former Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) reporter, Ismail Kassim, responded to a statement wrote by a former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Calvin Cheng who expressed his view on the the issue raised by Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC Faisal Abdul Manap.

The issue also got the attention of netizens' as many of them felt that the reply from Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli was inappropriate.

Mr Cheng stated that Singapore Parliament does not have Malay MPs specifically championing Malay causes, Chinese MPs specifically championing Chinese causes and so on, as compared to Malaysia's Parliament.

Therefore, it is not the right place to raise the tudung issue.

He stressed that Mr Faisal was elected by the multi-racial electorate of Aljunied GRC and was not elected only by the Malays or Muslims.

"He represents people of all races and all religions in Aljunied GRC. He should remember that," he said.

Here is what he wrote in full :

Some people have been arguing that Parliament should be the right place to bring up the tudung issue.

I would like to remind readers about the political history of Singapore: unfortunately, this would also entail a comparison to the Federation of Malaysia, from where we were ejected in 1965.

Malaysia's political system consists of political parties that purport to represent a certain race, who then come together to form an alliance. The ruling coalition, the BN, consists of UMNO which represents the Malays, the MCA which represents the Chinese, and the MIC which represents the Indians. There are also smaller political political parties in the ruling coalition, but most of them purport to represent a race, or a religion. The opposition coalition is also broadly the same, but with the exit of PAS, the alliance is broken.

Malaysia thus practices communal politics.

Singapore is precisely the opposite.

The PAP is a multi-racial, multi-religious political party that represents the diverse interests of all Singaporeans. Our major opposition political parties are also the same. The GRC system is set up to ensure minority representation, but all MPs were elected by a diverse electorate.

We thus do not have Malay MPs championing Malay causes, Chinese MPs championing Chinese causes and so on. Unlike the Malaysian Parliament, our Parliament is not structured this way. Bringing up narrow communal causes in Parliament is thus divisive precisely because our political system, and our Parliament, was designed to ensure that we do not practice communal politics. We elected our MPs to represent us, regardless of our race or religion, not because of it.

Workers Party MP Faisal Manap was elected by the multi-racial electorate of Aljunied GRC. He was not elected only by the Malays or Muslims. He represents people of all races and all religions in Aljunied GRC.

He should remember that.

Mr Ismail then responded to the statement, saying that the tudung is not a religious issue. Those who put on the tudung are barred from wearing it for certain occupations, essentially making it a human rights issue.

He also commented on the manner in which the issue was brought up. He noted that Mr Masagos's response to the issue bordered on arrogance and bullying.

Here is what Mr Ismail wrote in full:

Yes, why not? Tudung is not a religious issue. When those who put on are barred from certain occupations it becomes a human right issue; the right of all to equal treatment before the law and the right of employment in all sectors without any discrimination.

It is not just what issues are raised, but also the manner in which they are brought up. What is equally important is also how should the Government react when such issues are raised.

Faisal brought it up with admirable restraint, but the reaction from the Minister was, to say the least, inconsistent with the spirit and norms of democracy. It bordered on arrogance and bullying.

Like the Minister, you too picked on Faisal, the safest target, the most vulnerable.

I am sure whatever he did in Parliament had the blessings of the Workers Party and its leaders.

Why not blame the WP also for not distributing the workload in a way more consistent with the norms of our multiracial society.