by Harish Karthick
The writer would like to start this article of by firstly saying congratulations to our new President Mdm Halimah Yaccob and he is sure that the President will champion the causes of gender equality as Singapore’s first female President. It is imperative in a democracy that people respect the results of the political process regardless of the result. It is this respect for the electoral process that has allowed Singapore to enjoy this long uninterrupted period of stable democratic rule in a geographical area that has seen many countries succumb to maximum governments.
However, it is also imperative that Singaporeans of all walks of life question the choices of their leaders, especially when the democratically elected opposition is unable to do so effectively. As citizens who will be asked to cast our ballot in subsequent elections, we also have a right to demand all our political parties to have a comprehensive stand on immigration, transport, education and all the other hot-button issues that matter to Singaporeans.
Speaking of elections, Singaporeans went to the polls not that long ago in 2015, yet we were not informed of this drastic change to our electoral process and we need to ask why. Did the People’s Action Party think of this solution within a year of its election? Or did it think that we would not mind? If so why not just tell us? Yet our opposition parties have not questioned the PAP on this issue. Let alone whether the change is democratic, the timing of the change needs to be questioned by Singaporeans.
Just to be clear the writer is not criticizing the PAP. The role of any political party is to win elections and be able to legislate effectively. If the PAP believed that the presidential election would have affected either of those 2 goals then they had to intervene. But the key to the effective functioning of any democracy is the debate between opposing ideologies and finding a middle ground. That debate was sorely lacking in this situation.
For a long time the PAP has legislated several laws that prevent the domination of a single culture in any area, political or temporal. Laws like the GRC laws and the Ethnic Integration Scheme in 1989 served to ensure that there was a strong minority representation everywhere from parliament to the HDB block we live in. They have been successful in that racial harmony is strong between Singaporeans and there are no interracial tensions left simmering. The downside of this is that Singaporeans have been left unable to organize along racial lines and have thus been deprived of an important social group that might have tied them to Singapore more closely.
Considering this it seems to the writer that the cause of racism is very much dead in Singapore and that its citizens would elect a candidate based not on the colour of his skin or the language he speaks but by his ability to govern and represent them. The ruling party’s “obsession” however with minority representation seems to be undimmed as is clear from the introduction of the hiatus triggered presidential election.
State of nature is a term that philosophers use to describe their belief of how humans fundamentally are. Are we racist or inclusive, greedy or generous, hardworking or slothful?
If we then take the ruling party’s implicit belief that Singaporeans are necessarily racist as is seen by the change then we have a president who non-Malay Singaporeans apparently cannot get behind. This would mean that our president, the face of our nation is someone that we did not and would not have voted for simply based on her race.
This is, of course, a ridiculous notion. If then Singaporeans’ state of nature were that they were inclusive then this change does way more harm than good. Firstly it insults all Singaporeans by implicitly telling us that we lack the moral fibre and intellectual capability to vote for someone because we believe in their vision for our country and that we would be misguided because we would favour our own race. This change, the most glaring example of “affirmative action” undercuts our policy of meritocracy wherein the most basic criteria to decide our next president would be the colour of their skin or the language they speak (or not speak) not their ability to lead the nation.
The thing that made the writer the proudest about Singapore was that we acknowledged that “We must Uphold Meritocracy and Incorruptibility” to be able to succeed. Now, however, that very same Meritocracy has been circumvented. This sort of affirmative action has led many countries like the writer’s homeland of India to establish “quotas” for entries into schools, universities and even jobs. This circumvention sets a precedent that is a dangerous threat to our long-term survival.
Thus the writer calls upon the opposition to make their position known on this issue and engage the ruling party on these key questions to bring clarity to the stance of the ruling party and the opposition. He also hopes that in the future with a more gruelling and higher level of debate between political parties the ruling party sees fit to inform the population of their plans for the future of the country and does not just act as they see fit.
It is with these changes and a continuing debate on all issues that Singapore can move on from a period where the path ahead was clear to this day and age where the future remains murky and opaque. It is important for us as a country to be able to come back together even after a debate and find a middle ground and a compromise that allows all of us to unite under one flag, the Singapore flag.