For once I agree with former diplomat Bilahari Kaukisan who has said at a recent conference that: “When the Chinese try to impose a Chinese identity on Singapore, we must resist, because modern Singapore is based on the idea of being a multiracial country.”
In some ways, Singapore has inherited the “divide and rule” system from Colonial times. The British found it much easier to control their vast empire by dividing the racial groups to such an extent that the races actually lived in different parts of Singapore. While the races now live for the most part harmoniously together, I do find that a lot of how Singapore is administered is very much along racial lines.
Firstly, in our NRIC, we have to state our race. Why is that necessary when really we are all just Singaporeans. With the increase of mixed race marriages, it is also artificial to insist that people of mixed race heritage choose a racial grouping in which to belong to. With a fixation on race, it is of little surprise that Singapore ends up being aligned with China given that the majority of Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese. However, is it really accurate to be so closely aligned with Chinese culture when in truth many Singaporeans have not even been to China!
Singapore should pay more attention to “Singaporeaness” by disposing of the need to tick a race box in all official forms. We are all Singaporean at end of the day. Ethnicity is not really relevant because we should all be getting the same rights, benefits and protections as a Singaporean. Our race really should not be a factor to consider. After all, aren’t we a society built on meritocracy?
Secondly, the government seems to have an unhealthy fixation with race as well. It would appear that many Singaporeans, in fact, would like to see Minister Tharman as Prime Minister. Yet it would seem that it is the government that keeps sending out the message that we are not ready to have a non Chinese PM. Is that really a reflection of the truth or is it a reflection of either the government’s miscalculation on racial matters or an implementation of the “divide and rule” structure inherited from the British? Has the government done any actual surveys to investigate on whether it really is the case that Singaporeans are not ready for an Indian PM?
It just doesn’t add up. On the one hand, the PAP government has insisted that certain positions such as the Presidency need to be retained for the minority races. This highlights the government’s concern with ensuring that the minority races are protected. In selling us this theory, the position of the President as the leader and head of state was drummed up and elevated. Yet in the same token, despite all the pomp and pageantry, we all know that the President wields no real political power. So, whatever the government’s intention, we now have a situation where a minority is elevated to the highest but most powerless office of the state.
Tan Cheng Bock appears to be a popular choice for President and he is Chinese while Tharman who is Indian appears to be a popular choice for PM. Yet we now have a situation where we have a Malay minority President and a raft of new Chinese faces as the future of the PAP leadership. The direct opposite of what the people want?
Could it be argued that the government uses the race card as a means to stay in power?
Race can be a very emotive issue and easily stirred to get a reaction. However, to really harness its ability to manipulate, the balance needs to be just right. While I despise this kind of maneuvering, I accept that Singapore would not be the first country to utilise this tactic. But I wonder if Singapore has gotten its own balance right.
Has the government weighed too much in favour of the Chinese at the expense of developing our own unique identity? Are we exposing ourselves to vulnerability by being too close to China or worst, seen as a part of China?