The issue on the elected presidency has taken a back burner as newspapers turn their attention onto the more pressing concerns of “Zikapore”. Given that another article on the what, how and who of the now infamous Zika virus is not really going to contribute to how this scourge is being tackled currently, I would like to turn my attention firmly back to a political matter that may well have a longer term impact on the direction Singapore will take.
As many will be aware, the Constitutional Commission (the Commission) set up to review the Elected Presidency has recently issued a report (the Report) suggesting certain amendments to the office of the Elected Presidency. (https://theindependent.sg.sg/only-a-political-decision-will-disqualify-tan-cheng-bock-from-the-next-presidential-race/) Amongst other things, the Report has recommended that when a member from any racial group has not occupied the President’s office for 5 continuous terms, the next Presidential elections should be reserved for candidates from that group. Given that there has not been a Malay President since Yusof Ishak or a Eurasian one since Benjamin Sheares, it would be fair to assume that should these amendments be accepted by Parliament, our next President would either be Malay or Eurasian.
Ostensibly, these changes will ensure that the minority races are more represented in government. While that goal is indeed laudable, I wonder if the right way to go about more proportionate racial representation is through reserving certain positions solely for certain races?
Firstly, the Office of the President possesses limited powers. If the aim is to empower the minority races, why offer the Office of the President? Instead of actually increasing the political clout of the minority races, it can risk coming across only as a patronising token gesture.
It is the Members of Parliament and the Ministers who have the authority to make the vital decisions that govern our country. Why not focus on increasing minority memberships in those echelons of power?
Secondly, why not level the playing field to ensure that all races have equal access to all the opportunities that Singapore has to offer? One way to doing this would be to tackle incidents of racism more severely. Individuals who engage in racist behavior in the provision of public services such as transportation should be prosecuted as opposed to be given a mere warning (https://theindependent.sg.sg/smrt-gives-racist-cabbie-stern-warning/).
Language blatantly stipulating criteria such as “Chinese speaking preferred” in both job and housing advertisements should be banned. These requirements give the Chinese majority an undue advantage in a country that prides itself as multi racial and multi cultural. For instance, it unfairly penalises the minorities in jobs where they are clearly qualified to do which affects their very livelihood. (https://theindependent.sg.sg/prima-deli-apologises-to-malay-woman-and-wider-community-for-its-staffs-racist-comments/). (https://theindependent.sg.sg/police-report-lodged-over-tampines-1s-racist-reply-to-entrepreneur/)
While it is important to ensure that all the races that make up Singapore are adequately represented in government, it is even more crucial to give thought to how minorities are being treated in day to day life such as in employment, while using public transportation and housing.
If the issue is really about promoting minority rights, perhaps the right place to start isn’t with the Office of the Elected Presidency. Perhaps we can consider criminalising public racist behavior and educating our citizens on the equality of all races. Next, we can focus on empowering minority races into entering Parliament rather than just the Elected Presidency.
Besides, isn’t reserving certain positions for certain races racism in itself? Also, isn’t it a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite his face, depriving Singaporeans of a good candidate just on the basis of race? (https://theindependent.sg.sg/we-need-another-humble-and-inspiring-president-and-not-another-aristocrat-picked-from-the-elite/)