Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s recent statement (28 March) about most Singaporeans might not be ready for an ethnic minority PM has drawn the ire of many citizens including international human rights M Ravi and Peoples Voice Singapore politician Simon Lim.
While at public policy and global affairs programme at a forum held in Nanyang Technological University’s (MTU’s) School of Social Sciences, Mr Heng was asked by if it is Singapore or the ruling PAP (People’s Action Party) that’s not ready for a non-Chinese Prime Minister.
As a response, Mr Heng asked the audience to raise their hands if they were happy to have a non-Chinese PM. According to reports, many audience members of the 700 students present raised their hands. Mr Heng then proceeded to say, “My own experience in walking the ground, in working with different people from all walks of life, is that the views — if you go by age and by life experience — would be very different”.
Later he said, “I do think that at the right time, when enough people think that way, we would have, we may have, a minority who becomes the leader of the country. But if you ask me, that whether across the voting population, would that be the outcome, I personally don’t think so,” Strait Times quoted him as saying.
Following this, international human rights lawyer, M Ravi took to Facebook to disagree with Mr Heng’s statement.
“Heng Swee Keat is saying that a minority of Chinese Singaporeans who belong to the older generation are racist in that they are not ready to accept a non Chinese as a PM.What about the ethnic minorities who are uncomfortable with the position taken by another minority segment of Singapore population who are unable to accept a non -Chinese PM? Whose views should prevail then – as a matter of principle?”
M Ravi then pointed out that it appears the government has conceded that most Chinese Singaporeans are ready for a PM who is of an ethnic minority but the administration has to ‘succumb to racism’ due to a minority of people who are opposed to the idea.
Describing Mr Heng’s statement as being ‘unfair to the older generation of Chinese Singaporeans’, Mr Ravi pointed out how it was this particular block of voters who elected Singapore’s first Chief Minister David Marshall in 1994.
In a separate post, Simon Lim of opposition party Peoples Voice Singapore also laid out his disagreement with Mr Heng’s statement. Mr Lim explained the history of Singapore’ GRC parliamentary system which only came into effect in 1988.
He noted that prior to that, many politicians of ethnic minorities won their parliamentary seats contested in single member constituencies including EW Barker, S. Rajaratnam, Ahmat Mattar, Hussin Zoohri, and more.
Opposing what Mr Heng said, Mr Lim highlighted that these MPs were elected by this older generation Mr Heng I referring to, adding that ‘almost all of them won their parliamentary seats “on the back of strong Chinese support.”
Mr Lim went on to say that voters in Singapore’s early parliamentary elections have consistently displayed ‘racial colour blindness’ and chose candidates that were ‘good and credible’.
He added, “ It is really the pap government that is paranoid and guilty of being the opposite. One startling example of their manipulation was the Reserved Presidency for the minority race. That went to the heart and grain of our pledge as one united people lalala and made a giant mockery and insult of it.”
M Ravi, in his post, also suggested that Mr Heng’s statement has revealed that the government “may have misled” the select committee on Elected Presidency, suggesting that the Chief Justice should write to the PM to reconvene the Committee and take other legal action to address the issue.
He even suggested that Mr Heng’s statement was a breach of the Federation Agreement and other legislations that guarantee the equal treatment and rights of all minorities.
Mr Lim on the other hand concluded that Mr Heng’s reply could mean that he either “has hidden agendas” or that he is “completely ignorant” about the nation’s election history. Either way, Mr Lim feels that Mr Heng has placed himself in “a very poor light and exposed Singapore under weak political leadership again”