When one reads what President Halimah Yacob has to say, one cannot help but sometimes wonder if she appreciates irony. She speaks about anti discrimination and of meritocracy. Yet, the very fact that she occupies the position that she does contravenes all the issues that she speaks out against.
Does she realise that?
In a recent speech at the opening of the 14th Parliament of Singapore, Yacob focused on meritocracy and multiracialism. However, her very position is itself arguably non meritocratic. Despite the position being ostensibly one that is elected. Yacob became President in a walkover election where potential candidates were ruled out of the race due to a seemingly last minute change in legislation. In other words, the manner in which she was “elected” to the position looks potentially like the antithesis of meritocracy. How can a President that seemingly stepped into the position because others were disqualified due to a last minute change in legislation talk about meritocracy with a straight face?
As a result of the manner in which she “won” the job, there will always be speculation that she did not get it by pure merit alone. For her then to speak of meritocracy renders the whole thing unconvincing.
In the same speech, Yacob talked about muliracialism. Indeed, her being in the role she is in was potentially down to her being of the “right race” given that a popular candidate in the form of Tan Cheng Bock was ruled out for not being a minority. Yet, she has stayed silent when Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat stated publicly (without empirical data) that older Singaporeans were not ready for a non-Chinese Prime Minister. To most fair minded people, this would certainly be the exact opposite to the concept of both meritocracy and multiculturalism. If Yacob is so passionate about meritocracy and multiracialism, why has she not called Heng out?
Yacob went on to say that “more redistribution cannot be the only way to level up those who are doing less well….We also have to continue strengthening social mobility and broadening our conception of merit.” But what is the point of saying all these things when she has not addressed the potential racist and un meritocratic views of a senior member of the Government? One that is said to be the future Prime Minister to boot!
Words and actions have to gel in order for them to be believable. So far, Yacob has seemingly only uttered empty words where the important issues of multiracialism and meritocracy are concerned.