Photo from Halimah Yacob’s Facebook page

Speaking to students from Anglo-Chinese Junior College who were taking part in a racial harmony programme at the Singapore Discovery Centre (SDC), Madam Halimah Yacob, President of Singapore told attending students to, among other things, ask themselves how they as individuals can further contribute to racial harmony. Further, they were asked to speak up against against stereotypes in everyday conversations.

Perhaps I am being uncharitable but I find it a tad ironical when President Halimah Yacob talks about racial harmony. Although I do not disagree with the content of what she has said, her position makes me doubt her convictions somewhat. How can a person with her experience take on the office of the elected presidency on the premise that the rules of contesting were changed to ensure minority representation? Surely as a career public servant, she would have known that the president holds virtually no political power and is simply a ceremonial role. By taking it, she is not ensuring minority representation. Rather she is consigning minorities to pomp and pageantry sidelines while the power bases remain with the Chinese majority. It is important to remember that this is set in the background of a country whose Prime Minister has said on international television that the country was not ready for a minority race Prime Minister.

Was her intention to promote the causes of minorities or her own career development?

I have no issue with prioritising self interest. It is after all, her career. What I find questionable is taking up the post ostensibly to promote minority rights. In my opinion, that is disingenuous. How can she be complicit in what some have deemed a scheme to block Mr Tan Cheng Bock’s attempts to contest the presidency under the guise of minority rights protection? Does this further the cause or does it damage and trivialise the genuine efforts made by others?

While Madam Halimah stresses the need for there to be deep and ongoing everyday conversations on what it takes to maintain multiracial harmony in Singapore beyond just relying on activities organised to promote it, this cannot begin until we address the real objectives behind what it means to have racial equality. Providing a token “no power” role to a minority is not minority representation. It is minority condescension. Not just on the part of the ruling party but on the part of Madam Halimah herself for taking on a role that she had to have known was controversial. Not less because of rife speculation that minority representation has been used as a bargaining chip to block the candidacy of popular former PAP MP.

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