SINGAPORE: The upcoming reserved Presidential Election is part of Singapore's overall framework to create a strong national identity, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said.
Whether it be ethnic quotas in public housing estates, or the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system during general elections, the Government has taken an active approach to promoting racial harmony, Mr Shanmugam said at a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on Friday (Sep 8).
Mr Shanmugam compared Singapore’s efforts to strengthen racial relations to that of countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom.
“This is my position, and I accept that people can disagree ... If you leave societies on their own and if the government does not intervene ... you will get the conclusions that (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel and (former UK Prime Minister David) Cameron put up - because the natural order is centrifugal, moving to segregated communities and not integration,” he said.
Social inclusion and an environment in which everyone gets the same opportunities does not happen automatically, but because of policies that “seek to foster and encourage it”, Mr Shanmugam said, adding that this approach has been fundamental to the thinking and the workings of Singapore's Government for the last 50 years.
He was the first to speak in a three-part session on the reserved Presidential Election, which also involved Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing and Senior Minister of State for Information and Communications Janil Puthucheary.
PRESIDENT AS UNIFYING FIGURE
Mr Shanmugam said having multiracial representation is important in the Elected Presidency, as the symbolic function of the President as a unifying figure remains core to the state.
“If the President, term after term, comes from a single race, would everyone feel that he or she symbolises the entire state, entire nation?” Mr Shanmugam asked.
Mr Shanmugam also pointed out that Singapore society has a long way to go in this regard, citing findings from a survey conducted by the IPS and Channel NewsAsia, in which 96 per cent of Chinese respondents said they would accept a president who is Chinese. In contrast, 59 per cent of Chinese said they would accept a Malay as president.
“The Malay (candidate), all things being equal, loses 37 per cent of the Chinese vote just based on race,” Mr Shanmugam said.
Mr Shanmugam added that with the GRC system, 29 per cent of Singapore's Members of Parliament come from minority races, while the US Senate has three African American senators out of a 100.
SINGAPORE'S RECORD SPEAKS FOR ITSELF: SHANMUGAM
When asked by law don Eugene Tan as to whether the government has been “overly activist”, Mr Shanmugam said: “The proof of whether the government has been over active or under active is you look at our state of race relations in Singapore.
“Compare it against the best in class and I think that is the real test and I think our record speaks for itself.”