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Young Singaporeans might be ready for an ethnic minority PM, but not the rest of the population, says Heng Swee Keat

While young Singaporeans might be “quite comfortable” with the prospect of being led by a Prime Minister (PM) of a minority race, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is sceptical as to whether the same viewpoint is shared by other Singaporeans, particularly those from older generations.

Mr Heng’s statement was made in response to a question posed by Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s School of Social Sciences’ public policy and global affairs programme at a forum at the university on Thu (28 Mar).

TODAY reported Asst Prof Walid as saying to Mr Heng: “Is it Singapore who is not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister, or is it the PAP (the ruling People’s Action Party) who is not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister?”

The academician also highlighted the example of Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, whose constituency’s elections results demonstrated his popularity with Singaporeans who were keen on seeing him taking up the PM post.

Citing the results of a survey by market research consultancy Blackbox in 2016, TODAY noted that “Mr Tharman was the top choice among Singaporeans to succeed Mr Lee, with 69 per cent of almost 900 respondents indicating that they would support him to be the candidate for prime minister”.

Mr Heng, who is poised to become the successor of PM Lee Hsien Loong, had asked the audience to raise their hands if they were happy to have a non-Chinese PM, The Straits Times observed.

In turn, many audience members out of the 700 students present at the ministerial forum organised by NTU’s Students’ Union had raised their hands.

Following the audience’s response, Mr Heng went on 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”.

However, he acknowledged that it is a good thing for the young generation to be “quite comfortable” with being led by an ethnic minority PM, as it is a reflection of the Government’s success in cultivating unity amongst Singaporeans “regardless of race, language or religion”.

“So that is why our young people grow up in a very different way and therefore you are quite ready.

“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,” ST quoted him as saying.

Malay-reserved 2017 Presidential Election “not contradictory” to the unpreparedness of many Singaporeans for a minority race PM: Heng Swee Keat

Mr Heng also said that the 2017 Presidential Election, which was reserved for Malay candidates, was “not contradictory” to his statement regarding Singaporeans’ readiness – or a lack thereof – to have a PM from a minority race.

Responding to a question from Asst Prof Walid, Mr Heng said: “It is precisely because we need to place this emphasis institutionally that we recognise that we have not arrived. It is important for us to ensure that we have that safeguard.”

“I can tell you that it is not easy because it triggers all the feelings about race, which are not obvious. But when it comes to an election, it becomes an issue,” he stressed.