SINGAPORE: PM Lee Hsien Loong knew that the reserved Presidential Election would be unpopular but went ahead with it, as he strongly believed it was the "right thing to do", he said in a dialogue session held last Saturday (Sep 23).
"Did I know that this subject would be a difficult one? That it would be unpopular and cost us votes? Yes, I knew," he said at a People's Association Kopi Talk held at Ci Yuan Community Club.
"If I do not know that these are sensitive matters, I cannot be in politics. But I did it, because I strongly believe, and still do, that this is the right thing to do."
Mr Lee acknowledged that there was "some unhappiness" following the reserved election. "I can feel that; you do not have to tell me," he said.
Three Malay candidates came forward to contest this year's reserved election. while all of the candidates in the 2011 election were Chinese. Although businessmen Mr Mohamed Salleh Marican and Mr Farid Khan did not qualify, resulting in a walkover, they would not have come forward in an open election, Mr Lee said.
"So why didn’t they come? Because they knew that in an open election – all things being equal – a non-Chinese candidate would have no chance," he said.
WATCH PM Lee's full speech here:
MULTICULTURALISM IS RESULT OF "HARD WORK"
The Prime Minister reiterated that Singapore's multiculturalism is the result of "very hard work", citing policies such as the Group Representation Constituencies and the Government's strong stance against extremists.
"There is nothing natural about where we are – multiracial, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive. We made it happen, and we have got to protect it, nurture it, preserve it, and never break it," he said.
Having multi-racial presidents in Singapore is an important symbol of what Singapore stands for, he added.
"It is a reminder to every citizen, especially the Chinese majority race, that there is a role for every community in Singapore."
MINORITIES WOULD HAVE FELT LEFT OUT
Mr Lee added that while people criticised the move as regressing towards "racial politics", the opposite was true. " We are making necessary changes to strengthen our multiracial system, in order to continue to progress as one united people.
"If we did nothing, it was very likely that we would not have had a Malay president for a very long time. After a while, the minorities in Singapore would start to feel left out," he said.
He described the reserved Presidential Election as one of the guardrails to help Singapore get to the "ideal state" when "Singaporeans naturally and regularly elect citizens of all races as President".