Home News SG Politics Ho Ching says Tharman's victory is a win for multiracial meritocracy

Ho Ching says Tharman’s victory is a win for multiracial meritocracy

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife and former Temasek chief Ho Ching thanks Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Mr Ng Kok Song and Mr Tan Kin Lian for contesting the presidential election.

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife and former Temasek chief Ho Ching has publicly thanked presidential candidates Ng Kok Song and Tan Kin Lian for contesting the election that ex-Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam won, this evening (1 Sept).

Mr Tharman won the race with a resounding 70.4 per cent, while ex-GIC chief economist Ng Kok Song and ex-NTUC Income CEO Tan Kin Lian scored 15.72 and 13.88 per cent, respectively.

Taking to Facebook as the results poured in, Mdm Ho said: “A huge vote of thanks to all 3 candidates for their courage in coming forward to offer themselves as candidates for our Presidential Elections. They have provided Singaporeans a choice, particularly NKS and TKL, in the face of the personal popularity of TS at the start.”

Mdm Ho added that Mr Tharman’s win is a win for Singapore’s multi-racial meritocracy. She said:

“Singaporeans have spoken and made their choice. Beyond the clear mandate they have given to Tharman as our next President, Singaporeans and Singapore has also sent a strong signal to the world on one important core value of Singapore – that of multi-racial meritocracy in a multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-cultural Sg.”

She added, “The presidency is still a very young institution in a young nation. There will be many more PEs to come.

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“The candidates who come forward and how Singaporeans make their choice will shape the institution for better or for worse. How each president behaves and fulfills their duty will also shape the presidency too. May Sg be forever an exceptional nation, exceptional in more ways than one.”

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Mdm Ho’s view that Mr Tharman’s victory represents a victory for multiracial meritocracy is one that has been echoed by political pundits in the wake of the election outcome but, for some Singaporeans, this view contrasts the narrative heavyweight ruling party politicians have perpetuated – that Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese PM.

Both Mdm Ho’s husband, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, and her father-in-law – founding PM Lee Kuan Yew – have made this claim.

In the 1980s, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said he had considered then-Minister for National Development, S Dhanabalan, to be the Prime Minister of Singapore but decided that the country was not ready for an Indian head of government.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong echoed his father’s views in 2008, shortly after Barack Obama got elected as the first black President of the United States of America. He said:

“Will it happen soon? I don’t think so, because you have to win votes. And these sentiments—who votes for whom, and what makes him identify with that person—these are sentiments which will not disappear completely for a long time, even if people do not talk about it, even if people wish they did not feel it.”

In March 2019, Heng Swee Keat – who had been identified as PM Lee’s successor at the time – echoed this sentiment as he spoke to students at a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) forum. When asked whether it is Singapore or the PAP that is not ready for a non-Chinese PM, Mr Heng asserted that the older generation is not prepared to accept a minority PM.

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Noting that many students might be happy to have a non-Chinese PM, Heng said that his “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.”

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.”

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Mr Heng asserted that he witnessed Singapore’s reluctance to accept a non-Chinese PM as he observed the elections: “I can tell you that it is not easy because it triggers all the feelings about race, which are not obvious. But for an election, it becomes an issue.”

Referring to the reserved presidential election in which ex-PAP MP Halimah Yacob enjoyed a walkover victory to the Istana, Mr Heng defended the government’s position saying it is “not contradictory.”

He reasoned: “It is precisely because we need to place this emphasis institutionally that we recognize that we have not arrived. It is important for us to ensure that we have that safeguard.”

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Survey results over the years have only debunked the PAP leaders’ perspectives.

Days after Mr Heng said that he does not believe Singaporeans are ready for a non-Chinese PM, a whopping 92 percent of 19,900 individuals responding to a viral Facebook poll voted for Mr Tharman to succeed PM Lee and become the nation’s next head of Government, instead of Mr Heng.

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The sentiments Singaporeans expressed in the latest poll matched the result of The Independent Singapore’s poll in 2017 when we asked our readers who should be the next PM. Out of 2,316 responses, most (1882 votes) voted for Tharman to lead Singapore into the future.

A Blackbox survey commissioned by Yahoo Singapore confirmed the results of our poll. In that survey, 69 percent of 897 respondents said they would support Tharman as a candidate to become prime minister.

In 2016, an IPS survey showed that the majority of Singaporeans were already accepting of a non-Chinese PM. 60.8 per cent of respondents said they would accept a Malay Prime Minister, while 64.3 per cent said they would accept an Indian head of government.

A similar survey conducted more recently by CNA-IPS in 2022 shows that Singaporeans have only grown more open to the idea of a non-Chinese Prime Minister. Last year, 69.6 percent of respondents said they would accept a Malay PM, and 70.5 percent said they would accept an Indian PM.

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