Singapore—Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in New York for a week-long visit, received the prestigious World Statesman Award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.
This award is given to people who are proponents of peace, prosperity and freedom, human rights and dignity, within their countries as well as globally via collaboration with other leaders.
According to Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the president of the foundation, PM Lee received the award because he has nurtured a society which embraces multiculturalism where ethnic groups keep their own way of living in harmony with other groups and cultures, as well as for encouraging an economy that is knowledge-based, primarily a system of education that has given Singaporeans the skills that makes them thrive internationally, and for putting in place health systems that are world-class.
In his acceptance speech, the Prime Minister credited the political structures in Singapore that have, over these past years, united the country and given it a strong identity.
However, he acknowledged that there are present challenges, which could undermine interfaith and multicultural harmony within Singapore.
“We did not become so because Singaporeans are a uniquely virtuous people. We created structures – constitutional, political, social – that discouraged intolerance, curbed chauvinism, and nudged social behaviour in positive ways, long before nudging became intellectually fashionable.”
Among the structures that PM Lee gave credit to were the Presidential Council for Minority Rights and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
He also mentioned the electoral policies that encourage multiculturalism in government.
“In Parliamentary elections, political parties are required to present multi-racial slates to contest multi-member seats. This discourages political parties from championing particular racial or religious groups, and dividing our society along primordial fault lines.
It also guarantees that Parliament will always have a minimum number of legislators from the minority communities so that minorities never feel shut out.”
He also mentioned Singapore’s Ethnic Integration Policy, which ensures the absence of racial enclaves within the country’s communities.
“Had we not intervened in the housing market, our population would have become racially segregated, as has happened in many other countries, with serious social consequences,” he added.
According to its website, “the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier in 1965, has worked on behalf of religious freedom and human rights throughout the world. This interfaith coalition of business and religious leaders promotes peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution. The Foundation believes that freedom, democracy and human rights are the fundamental values that give nations of the world their best hope for peace, security and shared prosperity.”
World leaders who have been recipients of the foundation’s World Statesman Award in the past are former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and British prime minister David Cameron, among others.
The citation at the awarding was read by Henry Kissinger, former United States secretary of state, now 96 years old. Dr Kissinger had been a close friend of PM Lee’s father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, according to the Prime Minister.
Dr Kissinger said, ”I’ve had the good fortune of knowing the family for most of my public life and I’ve always believed in their contributions to peace and stability in Asia.”
The Prime Minister said in his speech that he was accepting the award on behalf of everyone who has contributed toward creating Singapore’s harmonious society./ TISG
Read related: PM Lee Hsien Loong hails Singapore Convention as a triumph for multilateral institutions