Singapore—The country’s finance minister is drawing a lot of criticism online due to recent remarks about Singapore not being ready for a non-Chinese prime minister. And this shows no sign of abating, at least on social media, even for those who are in favour of Mr Heng’s position as prime minister presumptive.
Others are actually calling Mr Heng out for what they consider to be hypocrisy since he attended an event celebrating the success of a member of Singapore’s Ceylon Tamil community shortly before making what many are now considering to be a serious gaffe. In writing about that event, Mr Heng said, “Each Singaporean has the opportunity to realise her dreams, regardless of race, language, or religion.”
At a forum at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Thursday, March 28, Mr Heng had said that the older generation of Singaporeans are not ready to have someone from a minority race as the prime minister, even though a portion of the population has said they’d be satisfied if this were the case.
Furthermore, when asked by Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of NTU’s School of Social Sciences’ public policy and global affairs programme, “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?”
Mr Heng said, “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.”
However, he added, “I do think that at the right time when enough people think that we may have a minority leader, a minority who becomes the leader of the country, that is something that we can all hope for.”
Unfortunately, these remarks did not go over well with Singaporeans. Netizens of all stripes expressed how disappointed they were with the Finance Minister.
Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng, who is known to be aligned with Mr Heng’s own political party, wrote in a Facebook post, “It might be true that older Singaporean Chinese cannot accept a minority PM. But what percentage of the population are older Singaporean Chinese? I suspect they are a minority themselves. In that case, what is the logic behind saying that we can’t have a minority PM? In my lifetime, I hope to not only see a minority PM, but also a female PM. Best if we have a minority female PM ”
Singaporean historian Dr Pingtjin Thum also posted on Mr Heng’s remarks, taking a rather sarcastic tone. He wrote, “Which generation? The generation who elected David Marshall, a Jew, as our first Chief Minister? Or the generation who elected JB Jeyaretnam as our first post-1968 opposition MP? Or the generation who have repeatedly and overwhelmingly said they prefer Tharman as the next Prime Minister? If the PAP does not want a non-Chinese leader, that’s their prerogative, but they should not blame their racism on Singaporeans when history shows we are far more open-minded and tolerant than the PAP has ever given us credit for.”
Perhaps the criticism Mr Heng needs to take note of the most is from netizens themselves.
A man named Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh said in a widely-shared post that he actually supports “Singapore’s presumptive next prime minister” which is why he offered some constrictive criticism.
He wrote, These comments are regrettable, not least because they appear to rationalise and defend prejudices.
So what if some people are racist? Is Singapore supposed to pander to them? There are a hundred other ways he could have answered the question–Is it Singapore or the PAP that’s not ready for a non-Chinese PM?–including the simple, “Yes some may be racist but let’s do what we can to change their minds.”
On Mr Heng’s own Facebook page, netizens have been commenting on the issue on an unrelated post wherein the Finance Minister posted about having been the guest at a book launching wherein the author is a Singaporean of Sri Lankan descent.- TISG
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