In reports by The Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia dated Friday (29 September), it is reported that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated that he knew the reserved presidential election would be unpopular and would cause the ruling party to lose votes, but said it had to be done because it was the right thing to do.
At a People's Association Kopi Talk held at Ci Yuan Community Club, the first discussion held on the matter, Mr Lee said, "Did I know that this subject would be a difficult one? That it would be unpopular and would cost us votes? Yes, I knew. If I do not know that these are sensitive matters, I cannot be in politics. But I did it, because I strongly believe, and still do, that this is the right thing to do."
Mr Lee also acknowledged people's unhappiness, saying, "I can feel that; you don't have to tell me."
However, he noted that the Government had spent nearly two years preparing to make changes to the Constitution, and had discussed and debated the issue continually since he first raised the subject in January 2016 during the opening of Parliament.
"But it is only now that people are seized with it, after a reserved election in which only one candidate qualified," he said, adding that while some people think "we may be going backwards towards racial politics", the reality "is the opposite".
He stressed that, in fact, ensuring that minorities are elected president from time to time will strengthen Singapore's multiracial system.
"There is nothing natural about where we are - multiracial, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive. We made it happen, and we have got to protect it, nurture it, preserve it, and never break it," he said.
Mr Lee stated businessmen Mr Mohamed Salleh Marican and Mr Farid Khan came forward to contest this year's reserved election. Even though they did not qualify and resulting in a walkover, Mr Lee stated that they would not have come forward in an open election.
Pointing to the fact that in 2011's election, all three candidates were Chinese, he said, ""Was there a Malay candidate? Where were the Farid Khans and the Salleh Maricans? Why didn't they come? It did not cross their minds? No. So why didn't they come? Because they knew that in an open election - all things being equal - a non-Chinese candidate would have no chance."
"It is a reminder to every citizen, especially the Chinese majority race, that there is a role for every community in Singapore," he said.
Citing President Halimah, who said when she was sworn in that she looked forward to the day when reserved elections are no longer needed, Mr Lee said, "I too hope that we will eventually not need such a mechanism to ensure minority representation."
He described the reserved Presidential Election as one of the guardrails to help Singapore get to the "ideal state" when "Singaporeans naturally and regularly elect citizens of all races as President".
Many netizens expressed their disappointment, stating that the action was taken to prevent Tan Cheng Bock to win the seat. Some went to Channel NewsAsia comment section, while some went to the Straits Times.
Bryan Yap wrote, "You are in politics because you are someone's son. Not because of your capability."
Harun Aminurasyid AbdulRahman wrote, "That is only from your point of view LHL, but not from the rest of peoples of Singapore. We know you did that on purpose to Prevent Tan Cheng Bok to become our next Elected President. How dirty tactics and narrow minded ways of Political thinking that you have indeed!"
Jon Zephanius wrote, "If you do not want minorities to be left out, why not a minority PM? Why not have a Reserved Prime Ministership? That is the job that matters. You think they will not feel left out when the most powerful man in Singapore is always a Chinese? Full of Bullshit!"
Frankie Tan wrote, "Frankly I don't buy your reasoning and that you are aware of the unhappiness but it was the right thing to do. The right thing for who. Definitely NOT for Singaporean. It's because it was to achieve a purpose for you and the PAP government to have a puppet President that would not question nor bring up any issues relating to our national reserves. That is the only reason, so please stop treating us like idiots and swallow your nonsensical explanations."
Beng Tang wrote, "Since independence in 1965, we have had presidents who were Malay, Eurasian, Indian, Chinese, and now Malay again, but we have only ever had Chinese Prime Ministers. Singaporeans are evidently so racist that they elect a Chinese Prime Minister at every single general election. If we need a Malay president because we have not had one since Yusof Ishak, then we have an even greater deficit of Malay Prime Minsters. In order to maintain our fragile racial harmony, shouldn't the PM's seat be reserved for a Malay at the next election?"
Minsoon Lim wrote, "People are unhappy not because of reserved election but because it’s a walkover. You have set the eligibility rules so high that does not allow any credible Malay candidate to contest but yet set the bar so low to allow your Indian colleague who does not have any fiscal experience to be elected. And do not get us started on Malayness, Tan Cheng Bock and whether it’s a policy decision or AG advice which president to count as the first one."
Stella Josephine wrote, "Still pretending this was in the interest of maintaining racial harmony. Just how stupid do you think the populace is?"
Gopal Chris wrote, "We prefer a president who is not in the ruling party or opposition. He or she must be neutral. Most importantly the president must have the power."
Ong Qizong wrote, "This just show how our Government work! It's the "I" and not We as a whole. Sad case. Hope those 70% will wake up soon."
Timothy Ho wrote, "In the 2011 presidential election, there was not one Malay candidate, he noted.
"Was there a Malay candidate? Where were the Farid Khans and the Salleh Maricans? Why didn't they come? It did not cross their minds? No. So why didn't they come? Because they knew that in an open election - all things being equal - a non-Chinese candidate would have no chance," he said.
Why are we continuously being told that we are racist? Lazy repeated rhetoric again and again."
Wee Kita wrote, "He got the whole idea of racial harmony wrong. In the first place over time (decades and centuries) race will become more grey area when people of different races interbreed. This is good because it is the ultimate racial harmony you can have when everyone becomes a mix of different races!
But by making reserved election we are telling the different races to draw clear boundaries between each other. And by maintaining these boundaries means we are encouraging different races not to mix!"
Calvin Xun Hui Wong wrote, "If you truly wish to strengthen multi racial relationship we should be having a reserved election for the Prime Minister position. Fact is you do not want another President who would want to carry out checks on the government, like what late OTC did. It is an insult to the minority races community, assuming that they want a President from their own community. Do you truly know why there are unhappiness in this reserved election event?"
Mabell Ong wrote, "Still the right things to do? Respect Singaporeans views, respect that Singaporeans know what we are talking about. By thinking only you know what is right is a grave blindness. We have come a long way. Singaporeans are understanding, mature and wise. Learn to listen more to the public instead of insisting on one's way. In this case how many votes will be lost may well be underestimated. By insisting your way now all races are unhappy."
Anna Hand wrote, ""But I did it, because I strongly believe, and still do, that this is the right thing to do," LHL added.
Fiddlesticks! Hsien Loong, it was absolutely the wrong thing to do!
50+ years of hard work to achieve multicultural, multiracial harmony, justice, unity and equality etc all down the drain. You can bin our national pledge too since you have negated our core values."
Daryl Tan wrote, "The people are unhappy about the fact that: In North Korea, Kim Jong Un win Election with 100% votes. In Singapore, Halimah win without Election. Even though North Korea is dictatorship, the people are given a voice. We singapore are democratic but the people are left without a voice."
Adrian Sim wrote, "It is not the reserved presidential election that people are angry with. It is the making of the reserved presidential election. 1) Why is President Wee counted as the 1st Presidential Election? We cannot change history. President Ong is ALWAYS be the first elected President. 2) Why does an Indian Muslim considered as Malay? There are too many flaws which are not responded by the Government."
James Wang wrote, "Most people are not against reserved president elections. The process done last reserved President Election riled many people. By creating a Community Committee , an Indian Muslim turned into a Malay on a piece of paper and became the President.
LHL , you are avoiding talk in this point."
Jason lim wrote, "Even if there is a need for a Malay President, we can still have an open race and gender election for Singaporean to vote. What we need is a capable person regardless of race, language or religion to represent the people of Singapore and not a chosen one by the Government or for the Government. We call our self a democracy society and how may I honour that now?"
Yt Lam wrote, "Reserved for Malay ended up as Reserved for Indian, and worst, the people are not allowed to choose which Indian."
Ronald Wee wrote, "If you were really serious about multiracial representation in the Elected Presidency, the government should have had a Malay president after former President Wee Kim Wee resigned from his office in 1993, 24 years and 4 presidential terms ago because by then, all the main races in Singapore had at least one stint as a president.
Instead, we had 3 Chinese presidents and 2 Indian presidents before you remembered to have a Malay president. The idea of different races rotating in the office of Singapore presidency isn't new, I remember it explained to me when I was younger and it was already in practice so why the long delay in having another Malay president?"
Christopher Yeo wrote, "Clowns will always be clowns. They are running the country like a circus, creating laughing stock locally and internationally."
Jae Chia wrote, "So PM admitted that he had no confidence that Halimah will win in an open election? Otherwise, let her win fair and square. Isn't that a much better outcome?"
Patricia Soh wrote, "Yes..pls give the minority a chance. Can we have a Non-Chinese PM, please? We should be able to single out a few good one non-Chinese!"
Clifford Chan U wrote, "You are the cause of it. Fight fair & just. Nobody can say anything but selected elected is too authoritarian & that is not democracy."
Raymond Lim wrote, "Then why the other 2 Malay candidates not given a chance for the PE? Obviously there was intention to disqualify them because the cap was raised from $100 millions to $500 millions."
Eric Lee wrote, "I am looking forward to a minority race PM for Singapore for the coming General Election, since the Ruling Party started no minority race PM, we should have one asap.... if not the Minority will be let out and the minority will feel out of place .... I am a true Singapore Chinese, majority race, I support a minority PM. I think this is the right thing to do for Singapore, since the ruling party is being so considerate and open my eyes & mind: I support a minority race PM wholeheartedly! Food for thought!"
Spencer Gan wrote, "I still do not see the need for a reserved election but even if I did, reserved election was not competed on an equal footing, hence the walkover! Why did Abdullah Tamuggi did not stand against Halima? Why don't we rotate the race of PM, DPM, Defence Minister, Education Minister as well? I do not have any qualms about a Malay President (because I see her as a Singaporean), but the way this was conducted leaves a a bad taste in the mouth very bad! Racial Harmony? We have just taken a step back and it was not the right thing to do."
Jason Soon wrote, "If you are the only one feeling it was the right thing to do but the majority of the people feels otherwise, it simply means there is a conflict of interests between your interests and the people's interests? It's that simple, let's be rationale about it.
Right and wrong are mere subjective words depending on the objective of the act. Kicking a dog can be seen as animal abuse and a wrong thing to do, but the same act can also be the right thing to do when the dog is barking and attempting to bite."
NC Tay wrote, "If you do not do it, it is going to cost much more with the second key being held by somebody who is non-PAP."
Steven Goh wrote, "The next GE we should have a minority PM. Same reasons for having a Malay for PE 2017. If PM Lee does not agree then PE 2017 is just wayang the reasons he gave are not true. Is he lying to Singaporeans?"