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Do Singaporeans actually not want a non-Chinese PM or is it the PAP that’s not ready?

Based on a survey conducted in 2016, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is a clear favourite of Singaporeans to be the next Prime Minister, contrary to what Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat recently said last week.

Mr Heng, who has been touted as the most likely candidate to succeed PM Lee Hsien Loong as Prime Minister, has controversially said that while young Singaporeans may be ready for someone from the ethnic minority to be Prime Minister, he thinks the rest of Singapore is not.

Following Mr Heng’s comments, a lecturer at SIM International Academy, Mark Rozells, posted a poll on his Facebook page asking people to vote on who they would like to see as their next Prime Minister, Heng Swee Keat or Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

In just three days, the poll received over 22,000 votes with a strong 92% throwing their support behind DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

One person commented that they wouldn’t choose either, another person said that to them, the choice between the two is a no-brainer.

Another person said that while the poll indicates strong support for Mr Shanmugaratnam, people will simply say that the older generation isn’t read, basically what Mr Heng said last week.

Yet another person noted that his choice wasn’t based on race at all. And really, when choosing a leader, race shouldn’t even be a factor, not when meritocracy reigns as it supposedly does in Singapore.

Now, in different survey commissioned by Yahoo Singapore and conducted by market research consultancy Blackbox back in 2016, the results swung the same way. About 69% of 897 respondents said they would support Mr Shanmugaratnam as a candidate to be Prime Minister of Singapore.

The poll results showed that the majority of respondents preferred Mr Shanmugaratnam over other possible candidates including Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (25%) and Minister in the Prime Minister’s office Chan Chun Sing (24%).

Respondents were allowed to choose more than one contender for the post of PM and pick one as their top choice for the job.

Even in this respect, Mr Shanmugaratnam was top choice of 55% of respondents, far ahead or Mr Heng and Mr Chan who were named top choice for only 9% of respondents each.

The poll also showed that Mr Shanmugaratnam was a favourite among different age groups, ethnicities, and people of different socio-economic status. More than half of Malay and Chinese respondents chose Mr Shanmugaratnam as their top candidate while 80% of Indian respondents did the same.

Clearly, this is contrary to Mr Heng’s recent comments that older Singaporean’s are not ready for a non-Chinese PM. Responding to a question a the public policy and global affairs programme at a forum held in Nanyang Technological University’s (MTU’s) School of Social Sciences, Mr Heng said that based on his own experience of walking the ground and working with people from all walks of life, he doesn’t think that most of Singapore is ready for a Prime Minister of an ethnic minority.

Mr Heng has received backlash with many calling him out for the racist nature of his statement. International human rights lawyer M Ravi pointed out that Mr Heng’s comments imply that the administration has succumbed to the racism of a minority of people – older Chinese Singaporeans – who are opposed to the idea of a non-Chinese PM.

Separately, Peoples Voice Singapore’s Simon Lim suggested that Mr Heng’s statement is a breach of legislation that guarantees the equal treatment and rights of all minorities.

The main takeaway here, though, is that Mr Heng’s view or rather the view of his party is unsubstantiated, as the Blackbox survey has revealed. So is Singapore not ready for a non-Chinese PM or is the ruling PAP not ready?