In the wake of police investigations made into social media posts made by Raeesah Khan — one of the Workers’ Party (WP)’s candidates for Sengkang group representation constituency (GRC) this year — a compilation of quotes by People’s Action Party (PAP) politicians has made its rounds across social media platforms such as Facebook and Reddit.
As recently as in March last year, former Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat indicated that older Singaporeans are not ready for a “non-Chinese” Prime Minister.
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.
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 assistant professor also highlighted the example of Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, whose constituency’s elections results demonstrated his popularity with Singaporeans who remain keen on seeing him take 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 former Prime Minister 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.
A police report was filed against Mr Heng last Sunday (5 July) for the above remarks.
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general Chee Soon Juan has also — in 2016 — criticised statements made by PAP politicians in response to allegations that the SDP is racist.
An instance he pointed out was a speech made by former Member of Parliament Choo Wee Khiang in 1992, in which he said that it was “pitch dark” in Little India one evening “not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around”.
Dr Chee also drew attention to then-Young PAP member Jason Neo’s move of posting a picture of young Malay schoolchildren on a religious preschool bus with a caption that read: “Bus filled with young t*******t trainees?”.
In Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas — originally published in 1998 and authored by ST‘s top editors Warren Fernandez, Sumiko Tan and Han Fook Kwang — the late Minister Mentor was quoted at one point as saying that Malays at the very beginning “were not hardworking, nor were a lot of the Indians”.
“We encouraged them to keep up. I’m not sure whether they will not feel a little resentful, but I mean this is part of history. I know that it took a long time before the Malays accepted that they had to work hard because it was not in their culture,” said Mr Lee.
Twitter users highlight instances of “privileged Chinese people” accusing minorities who spoke up on injustices of stoking “racial divides”
Ms Khan in a Facebook post on Sunday night issued a public apology following the controversy.
She clarified that her purpose of making the post was “to raise awareness to minority concerns” and “never to cause any social division” unlike what was alleged of her.
However, while she stressed that she is “passionate about minority issues, regardless of race”, Ms Khan said that she regretted making the “insensitive” remarks in the post and has “to be accountable for them”.
“I apologise to any racial group or community who have been hurt by my comments,” she said, adding that she will extend her full cooperation to police in their investigations.
While comments on Ms Khan’s and WP’s official pages have been overwhelmingly supportive of the 26-year-old in light of her apology, Twitter user @mdzulkar9 highlighted instances elsewhere in which “privileged chinese people are QUICK to call racial divides when a minority speaks about injustices”.
Certain Chinese people, he added, demonstrate a reluctance to listen “when a minority says something “sensitive” because they are comfortable and delusional with what’s in front of them”.
“The bar has been set SO LOW. It’s time to bring Singapore’s standard higher,” he wrote in a string of tweets on Sunday.
privileged chinese people are QUICK to pretend to act like they’re hard of hearing when a minority says something “sensitive” because they are comfortable and delusional with what’s in front of them. the bar has been set SO LOW. It’s time to bring Singapore’s standard higher. pic.twitter.com/GylpBVCJ9V
— Zulkarnain Sadali (@mdzulkar9) July 5, 2020
Twitter user @samiradallama said that conversations on race “that goes beyond superficial understandings of our “””multicultural”” singapore” are often thwarted by “the incessant singaporean need to police bc of people’s inability to acknowledge racism in this country”.
any kind of conversation about race that goes beyond superficial understandings of our “””multicultural”” singapore stifled by the incessant singaporean need to police bc of people’s inability to acknowledge racism in this country ????????????
— samira (@samiradallama) July 5, 2020
One of such instances in the past is the case of Singaporean YouTube stars Preeti Nair and Subhas Nair, who were issued a two-year conditional warning each by the police in August last year for a satirical video they made in response to an E-Pay advertisement.
“How can a man wear brown and wear a tudung? Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Mr Subhas questioned in the video, in reference to the darkening of Mediacorp actor Dennis Chew’s skin to supposedly resemble an Indian man and his wearing of a headscarf to portray a Malay woman.
He added that the makers of the advertisement “should have cast a makcik“, pointing at how racial minorities were exploited for monetary gain for the advertisement when the makers could have cast and paid a real Malay “auntie” to play the role instead.
The video was shortly taken down after a complaint from the Government.
Beyond the Nair siblings’ parody, the advertisement also attracted criticism from members of the public for the same issues.
However, then-Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that their video “insults Chinese Singaporeans, uses four-letter words on Chinese Singaporeans, vulgar gestures, pointing of the middle finger to make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans”.
“When you use four-letter words, vulgar language, attack another race, put it out in public, we have to draw the line and say not acceptable,” he added.
Netizens, in response, pointed out how the makers of the advertisement were able to skirt the issue with just an apology, yet the Nair siblings received a strong reaction from the Government, simply for critiquing the advertisers’ act of profiting from the caricaturisation of racial minorities via the advertisement.
Many have also highlighted — in light of the Ms Khan saga — how the PAP politicians mentioned above have not faced the same repercussions dealt with by the WP candidate and the Nair siblings after making potentially “racially divisive” remarks.