Heng Swee Keat attempted to “engage” 700 undergraduates at a forum on Thursday (March 28) organised by the NTU Students’ Union in a non-dialogue of gigantic proportions. I seriously doubt many students left the event feeling very reassured about their own future and that of the country.
The Finance Minister somehow spent an inordinate amount of time dwelling on whether Singaporeans would support the idea of having a non-Chinese as the Prime Minister. It is such an old issue. PAP says No, people say Yes, the PM-designate says Not Yet, maybe one day. So what else is new? I tell you why it was a waste of precious university time. The PAP is just not keen. The party has always have capable non-Chinese leaders – including S Rajaratnam, Edward Barker, Devan Nair, S Jayakumar and, latest, Tharman Shanmugaratnam (with all due respect to S Shanmugam). But it does not want to risk having to fight against any formidable opposition party that is ready to play the race card. If that is so, then, the opposition Workers Party must be committing political suicide in replacing Low Thia Khiang with Pritam Singh as its secretary-general. We shall see.
According to CNA, a survey conducted by market research consultancy Blackbox in 2016 found that Tharman was the top choice among Singaporeans to succeed Lee Hsien Loong, with 69 per cent of almost 900 respondents indicating that they would support him to be the candidate for prime minister.
“Is it Singapore who is not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister, or is it the PAP who is not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister?”asked Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of NTU’s School of Social Sciences.
Because diversity was supposed to be one of the issues on the minds of our students, Heng went into a mini speech about why we should not build walls (a small swipe at poor Donald Trump and his Mexican Wall).
“Singaporeans need to be open (to the idea of living with) and (have better) understanding of foreigners – whether immigrants or workers and students from other countries – so that they have the confidence to interact with people of all races, languages and cultures from around the world,” said Heng. “We don’t want a world where people build walls around themselves.”
I have absolutely no idea how our next PM came to the conclusion that Singaporeans are uncomfortable working with foreigners. They have been working with people from different races, Asians or Westerners, for decades or even centuries. Maybe he’s referring to people who are racists, those who do not get along with people other than their own kind in the first place. There will always be such people. But when it comes to work, it is a given that most Singaporeans are entirely comfortable working with all sorts of people.
The thing that Heng did not want to say and that the undergrads have refrained from bringing up was the problem of unfairness. First, why are places reserved in our universities for foreign students (many on scholarships funded by Singapore taxpayers) at the expense of local students who then have to pursue their degree courses overseas using their parents’ hard-earned savings? Second, when they returned after graduation, they have to sacrifice their lives and time doing reservist training, often jeopardising their career prospects, while foreign workers promoted over them because they did not have to encumber their employers with NS liabilities.
The NTU students should have zoomed in on the real foreigner-related threat to their career prospects and livelihoods. That comes in three forms – unfair practices, fake degrees and unlevel playing field (because of NS and cost of living factors).
And there is an even bigger fourth threat – a pervading top leadership refusal to categorically reassure true-blue Singaporeans that their interests take priority over any other priority at all times.
Walls? Our poor young should be worried about opening the floodgates. Where do you think the 6.9 million or 10 million would come from?
Nurul Izzah Anwar’s lunch with Sumiko
Malaysian princess of reformasi Nurul Izzah Anwar was not the only New Malaysia leader to have had Lunch With Sumiko.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng also had their makan with The Straits Times Deputy Editor. But I really can’t recollect anything significant said by Mahathir or Lim or what they ate. I can only recall that Mahathir said he usually ate very little, that whatever was served, he would eat only half or a portion. That is how he maintains his slim fit.
I remember clearly, however, what was consumed at Nurul’s lunch: A glass of water. That’s all.
And, of course, we all know what she said – that, among other things, Mahathir was a dictator. For the record, she has clarified that it was not a new pronouncement, she had already said that a couple of times before.
So ease off, everyone, give her a break.
Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.