While it is a good sign that people in Singapore today are “comfortable” having someone non-Chinese as their prime minister, such a view is not reflective of the entire country, this according to Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is expected to succeed Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong. According to the finance minister, the older generation prefers a Chinese person to lead them.
Such statements were said in response to the view that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is a popular choice to take on the top job.
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Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of NTU’s School of Social Sciences’ public policy and global affairs programme, also stressed Mr Tharman’s popularity as unmistakable in his constituency’s elections results.
Blackbox, a market research consultancy, conducted a survey in 2016 which revealed that Mr. Tharman was the top choice among Singaporeans to succeed Mr. Lee, with 69% of almost 900 respondents who said that they would support Tharman to be the candidate for prime minister.
As a retort to Mr. Heng’s ‘non-readiness’ of Singapore for a non-Chinese PM, Asst. Prof Walid asked, “Is it Singapore who is not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister, or is it the PAP (the ruling People’s Action Party) who is not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister?”
“My own experience in walking the ground, in working with different people from all walks of life, is that the views — if you go by age and by life experience — would be very different,” the finance minister said.
Obviously, Mr. Heng cleverly took the apparent popularity of Tharman among today’s generation of Singaporeans to point out the effectiveness of the government’s thrust and efforts in its campaign for unity among Singaporeans as a people “regardless of race, language or religion,” and that government initiatives towards this goal has “borne fruit,” Mr. Heng added.
Adding to his inquiries, Asst. Prof Walid asked if the Government was hurling conflicting messages by declaring during the 2017 Presidential Election that it is reserving a place for candidates from the Malay community but now it is stating that Singapore is not ready for a prime minister from a minority race.
In responding to this query, Mr. Heng made it clear that there was no conflict.
“It is precisely because we need to place this emphasis institutionally that we recognise that we have not arrived. It is important for us to ensure that we have that safeguard.”
Pointing to what he saw when he took part in the elections as “an observer” and not a candidate, he said: “I can tell you that it is not easy because it triggers all the feelings about race, which are not obvious. But when it comes to an election, it becomes an issue.”
In conclusion, the finance minister underscored in his message during the March 28 NTU forum that “The more open we are, the more international we are in our outlook, the better it is for Singapore (and) the world. Because you don’t want a world where people build walls around themselves,” Mr. Heng added.
So, isn’t not wanting to have a non-Chinese PM, an act of building a wall?
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