Friday, 22 September 2023

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If amendment to presidential election is to showcase commitment to minority representation, then why not a minority candidate for scholarships?

The Singapore government has always maintained that minority interests and racial harmony are of utmost important. It is this justification that the government has used in changing the criteria for the elected presidency and reserving the position for minority representation.

While that reason has been vigorously criticised as artificial given that the presidency is a role that comes with no real political power, the government persevered and we now have President Halimah Yacob.

If the racial quota is so important to the government, why is it that none of our President’s scholars is from minority races?

The President’s scholarship is meant to be the most prestigious scholarship in Singapore. Shouldn’t its recipients represent the full spectrum of our racial make up?

Detractors will argue that the selection of recipients should be based solely on merit without consideration for race, religion or sex etc. But can there be meritocracy without equality? Who decides the criteria for meritocracy?

Without genuine minority representation, true meritocracy cannot be achieved due to the lack of actual equality. A meritocracy criteria drawn up by the majority will never truly represent the minorities – not meaningfully at least.

And note that the shortlisted candidates are interviewed by a selection committee chaired by the Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Singapore. It is not a case where the top student automatically gets the award.

It is therefore disappointing that it is our minority president handing out the awards in her name to Chinese only recipients. I cannot help but see the jarring irony.

It also makes me wonder how committed to minority representation the PAP government really is. Why offer the minorities the most token position in politics? The president’s role is full of pomp and ceremony but despite its appearances, it is a hollow role that wields zero political power. It looks like lip service to minority rights while reserving the real power for the majority race and the president’s scholarship ceremony is just another example of majority race preference whether unwittingly or otherwise.

This may of course not be deliberate. It does however reek of unconscious bias.

I am not knocking the achievements of the recipients. I am sure that they are all promising young people who are full of potential that should be nurtured. But it is important to bear in mind the symbolic nature of the president’s scholarship.

If we have used the position of the president as a way to showcase our commitment to minority representation, then the least we can do is to ensure that a minority candidate is also a recipient. This would have demonstrated commitment and consistency to its alleged cause.

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