Presidential Election: Tidak cucup Melayu (not Malay enough)?

Sense And Nonsense – by Tan Bah Bah

Speaker Halima Yacob, Mohamed Salleh Marican & Farid Khan. Either not Malay enough or don't meet the criteria.

Two parallel debates are going on over the Presidential Election in September. They will shape public perception of the next President of Singapore – not necessarily for the better.

The first debate is linked to Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s continuing challenge to the legal legitimacy of the election. He has filed an appeal against the High Court’s rejection of his earlier application.

In simple colloquial terms, Dr Tan feels he has been cruelly and unfairly hard done. He lost that last election in 2011 by a whisker to Dr Tony Tan and was looking forward to taking part again. He even declared his intention long before the latest constitutional changes which have resulted in a Malay candidates-only election for the next term of office. His pre-emptive move has itself been pre-empted by the changes, at least in the eyes of his supporters. Bear in mind that 738,311 Singaporeans voted for him in 2011.

So he has every right to be particularly peeved by Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair’s nasty remarks: “(Dr Tan) is advancing a strained interpretation of the Constitution so that he can apply to stand as a candidate in the coming (PE). His motives are purely selfish and he has shown no regard for the principle of multiracial representation which Parliament intended to safeguard.”

This the-government-has-no-ulterior-motive-other-than-do-what’s-in-our-long-term-interest argument has been advocated ad infinitum.

Minister in the PMO Chan Chun Sing said during the Parliament debate on the changes: “If it were for short-term political advantage, let me ask the members of this House: If we were all politicians here calculating our short-term political advantages, would we expand political capital in doing this? Any sensible person would know that such amendments and moving of this Bill carries with it high political risk, if not political cost.” And so we have the GRC controversy all over again. And the PAP had the biggest shock when the Workers Party won Aljunied GRC.

Maybe the Minister was right – but not in the way he wanted us to believe, meaning that it showed a government ready to do what’s necessary for the greater good, never mind the fallout for them.  There is a potential separate backlash of cynicism which comes with pushing through the next Election as a reserved affair.  That political cost has nothing to do with multiracial representation.

The last two elections have shown that Singaporeans seemed to want a president – if they have to go through all the trouble of voting him or her in –  to act as a serious check on the government. However limited his or her powers.

Chua Kim Yeow caused quite a stir in 1993 when, without any form of campaigning, he received 41.3 per cent of the valid votes against Ong Teng Cheong. Then came the narrow escape for the establishment-endorsed candidate Dr Tony Tan in 2011.

I can’t do better than use the Hokien word: Kiasu.

The second debate that is going on in the lead up to September centres on the candidates for the Malay-only presidency.

Qualify or not?

Second Chance Properties CEO Mohamed Salleh Marican, who runs a company with shareholder equity of around $260 million (lower than the eligibility amount of $500 million), may not qualify. Farid Khan Kaim Khan, Bourbon Offshore Asia CEO, is not a Malay, Geylang Serai roots notwithstanding. He is of Pakistani descent. Halimah Yacob, the Speaker of Parliament and a touted front-runner for the post, is an Indian Muslim.

Perhaps, it is unfair to expect everyone to be 100 per cent this or that in any open society like Singapore. To stretch a point, the late Edward Barker, a founding first generation Law Minister, a Eurasian, had Indonesian/Malay blood. The Community Committee’s job to assess the racial group eligibility is perhaps the best way to minimise dispute. But there is a risk that its decision may not be accepted by segments of the Malay community.

We may end up with a situation where many insulted Malays may cast protest votes against a candidate they do not see as being Malay enough. In other words: Tidak cucup Melayu (not Malay enough).  And non-Malay voters may also skip the election or refuse to exercise their constitutional duty because they perceive the election as not really involving them.

The end result: The next President does not represent anyone except those who insist on having the election in September. Sangat susah (very troublesome).

RIP Liu Xiaobo

Goh Sui Noi wrote a beautiful piece on Liu Xiaobo, 61, who died of liver cancer on Thursday. The Straits Times China Bureau Chief gave a lot of play to Chinese netizens’ praise for the Chinese Nobel Peace laureate’s pro-democracy fight for freedom of expression and human rights.  Well done.

I was at ST Foreign Desk those historic nights in 1989 when the protesters, Liu included, occupied Tiananmen Square calling for democracy – before the tanks rolled in.  For a moment, a tantalising moment, we all thought it was going to be the Berlin Wall all over. We were following and carrying every development with great excitement. But the collapse of the communist regime never came.

May Liu rest in peace.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.


    • I will still vote but considering void vote cause I personally do not think this is a Presidential Election as he rule keeping changing, as a result, many qualified candidates become disqualified and to include only a particular race is wrong. All should be given a chance and for citizens to vote

  1. Should keep it simple, where the only qualification required ought to be someone born here, or who has lived here for the last 25years!? Candidate’s competency and character good standing should be put to the vote, rather than vetted/decided by any committee.

  2. We ought to ask these hopeful. Will they call for a COI to look into the allegations of corruption, nepotism etc of the PM by his siblings when they get elected. Should they call? We have a puppet president who knows that the integrity of the government and PM is being question yet he is still sitting on his ass.

  3. Either one is probably better than a government stooge? Finally coming out to tell Singaporeans that she is standing for the PE? Surprise … surprise?

  4. What is the definition of Malay? It seems very confusing with the candidates coming in. My parents told me, follow the father’s ‘sir name and race’. Yet, here it is differenct Can anyone enlighten me?

  5. And it’s up to the Malay to speak up for themselves. Who are the other races to say these candidates “tak cukup malayu”?

    If the Malays allow themselves to be made out of a joke of, it is their choice.

    Not only this PE a racist one, even the candidates are racist ones.

  6. This feels like a racist election. I don’t know enough abt the New candidates. And Halimah is like a consolation offerings from the Gov. Rushing us to make vital decision, is a norm for the gov.

  7. They just dont want TCB to be president lah. Law always has loopholes. They are using that loophole to their advantage. Did you see them presenting the timeline?

  8. this is the most stupid election…last time they say no racist as we all are equal as long as the person is good and can unite singaporeans…but now it is going the wrong way.

  9. The calibre of these candidates especially PAP’s Halima, will put Singapore to shame. What outstanding achievements had she done? I am sure there are better candidates…

  10. I tot as an MP she is serving Songaporeans already…why need to go for PE?? what about those who voted for her?? She has not finished her term!!

  11. Don’t worry the rules will be bent to accommodate their own stooges. What are rules if they can shamelessly change the Constitution with a snap of a finger?

  12. HOW TO VOTE………..if there’s 2 ”non-PAP” candidates………..just ABSTAIN…………

    if there’s only 1 ”non-PAP” candidate……………vote for this guy………..

  13. Plus no conflict of interest. Can’t be from the same pool of PAP minister.. I am not anti PAP.
    We need one to love the ppl n not make us poor Singaporean but rich Country.

  14. All these confusion won’t happen if they just follow democracy and let any race compete if they want. And throw away elitism too. What ?? 500millions bla bla bla. Middle class Low class upper class all are Singaporeans. What? Upper class only got brains ah?

    Now some Malays not happy. Some Indians not happy. Some Chinese not happy and the Eurasians are always overlooked.

    Politics is where racism is born.

    • Upper class are always well educated from prestigious universities/colleges(most likely abroad). Middle and lower class that studies just as high would get a chance but you need lots of money to run for the election unless you have sponsors backing you. Plus, it seems like in Singapore, your wealth status and family background seems a lot more important than doing an actual job as a president.

  15. Should late Othman Wok is still alive and fit enuf to be the elected president, he will get my vote bcos he was a GELAM origin. One of the ORI malays in early Spore.

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